By Tinus Boshoff


According to Section 17 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993), employers who employ 20 or more workers on premises must appoint representatives to monitor health and safety conditions.

One of the key principals of the OHS Act is that work related hazards, risks and dangers should be addressed through good communication between management and employees. Appointed representatives represent workers regarding safety and health matters to management. Representative’s forms part of an important link between management and the rest of the organisations employees. The appointment of health and safety representatives is a legal requirement; representatives need to be designated in writing, for a specified period of time.


It is important to note that the appointment of representatives should be done in accordance with the agreement as contemplated in the General Administrative Regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

General Administrative Regulation 6 stipulates that after commencing business, the employer in any workplace where there must be a health and safety representative, must meet with the registered trade unions in order to enter into negotiations to conclude a collective agreement. Where there is no registered trade union, the employer must enter into consultation with all employee representatives of the workplace.


During these negotiations the following issues must be discussed in order to reach a collective agreement:

  • Nomination or election of health and safety representatives

  • Terms of office, circumstances and matter in which they can be removed

  • Manner in which vacancies are to be filled

  • Manner in which health and safety representatives must perform their functions in terms of the act

  • Facilities, training and assistance that must be provided to a health and safety representative


But how many representatives should actually be appointed for the workplace?

According to section 17 of the OHS Act, shops and offices must have at least 1 representative for every 100 workers or part thereof. All other workplaces must have at least 1 representative for every 50 workers or part thereof.


Who should be appointed?

The same section stipulates that representatives should be full-time workers who are familiar with the workplace.

When should representation activities be performed?

According to the Act, representation activities must be performed during ordinary working hours.

Functions of Health and Safety Representatives (Section 18 of the OHS Act)

It is the employer’s duty to ensure that representatives are properly empowered to perform their duties as health and safety representatives.

Representatives are entitled to attend incident investigations and enquiries, inspect documents and participate in internal health and safety audits.


Representatives may:

  • Review effectiveness of health and safety measures

  • Identify potential hazards and major incidents

  • Examine causes of incidents

  • Investigate complaints

  • Advise the committee and the employer


Representatives shall be entitled to:

  • Visit incidents sites and attend inspections

  • Attend any investigation or formal inquiry

  • Inspect any document related to health and safety matters

  • Accompany an inspector

  • Be accompanied by technical advisor if approved by the employer

  • Participate in internal audits



A representative shall not incur any civil liability if he failed to do any thing which he may do or is required to do.