The state of Health and Safety on the Construction sites across South Africa

The state of Health and Safety on the Construction sites across South Africa

THHP spoke to Dr Claire Deacon (CD), the President of the Association of Construction Health and Safety Management (Achasm), about the state of Health and Safety on the Construction sites across South Africa.

THHP: When we first met, you insisted it is not Safety but Health and Safety, please explain the emphasis on Health and Safety?

CD: All of our legislation refers to ‘health and safety’, and if something is unsafe, or doing, using something unsafely, it affects the health of a worker or many workers. Health issues are largely ignored in the sector, and healthy workers are paramount to building South Africa. 

THHP: What is the general status of Health and Safety in Construction in South Africa?

CD: It has definitely improved since the Construction Regulations were introduced in 2003. However, there are many gaps in how health and safety (H&S) is addressed, specifically by clients and designers.

Clients and designers have a responsibility to ensure H&S aspects are covered throughout the life cycle, and this is not done well. The PrCHSA is most often only appointed at stage 5, and then by the designers or principal agent, which puts the whole project at risk.

At the recent SACPCMP conference, the Director of the Department of Labour stated that there were 75 fatalities last year. That is 75 too many. We have no idea what the extent of the injuries and occupational diseases are. The Compensation Commissioner has not published statistics since 1999. Only their carriers publish, which is a skewed reflection of the sector. 

THHP: How does the South African construction industry compare with other countries?

CD: Our legislation is good. However we don’t have a culture of compliance, rather one of ‘malicious compliance’. The term may be perceived as harsh; however, most approaches only consider legal compliance, which is a minimum and not optimum or better practice approach to projects.

The legislation is also meant to be ‘self-regulatory’, but more often than not the approach from many is one of ‘how likely are we to be in trouble from the Department of Labour’, or ‘we will address it if it is ever raised.’

THHP: What are we doing right?

CD: The registration of the construction H&S categories formalised by the Department of Labour and the SACPCMP has certainly been the right path to follow, albeit a bit bumpy. The industry is slowly recognising that H&S has a role to play and there is a level of compliance. There is a developing formal career path and studies relating to construction H&S, as well as those studying in the formal built environment having health and safety as part of their undergraduate and postgraduate studies. 

THHP: What areas do we need to improve?

CD: The sector needs to accept that H&S is not going away; the sooner all of the stakeholders realise that they have a lower project risk when they ensure that H&S is addressed from stage 1 with the appropriate registered PrCHSA, the better; and ensuring that contractors on site also address health and H&S.

The perception that a project only needs a PrCHSA when the need for a construction work permit is triggered is incorrect. All projects require one, as there is a requirement that the client provides the designers with a baseline risk assessment and an H&S specification, to guide through design, and develop for the tender. It is very rarely if ever done.

I have been fortunate to have been involved from stage 3 but never stage 1. Many of my colleagues have noted that permits have been issued to construction H&S officers, which means that they are working outside their scope of practice, and placing themselves and the project at risk. It also means that many of the designers don’t understand the various categories of registration or the scope of practice. Or maybe they ignore the requirements.

THHP: Are we doing enough to improve the situation?

CD: Our Voluntary Association (VAs), the Association of Construction H&S Management (ACHASM) is represented on a number of stakeholder forums.

We have been addressing H&S issues with other VAs within the built environment and among our fellow professionals registered in the other five categories to raise awareness of the H&S issues that need to be addressed.

We further run workshops that address specific critical needs we have identified in the sector, such as temporary works, pricing, designing for construction H&S (DfCHS), among others. We all need to do more; lives are at stake.

THHP: Do we have a good pipeline of skilled Health and Safety practitioners?

CD: Recent statistics indicate that approximately 17,500 individuals have applied to register with our Council, the SACPCMP. However, many don’t make it as they don’t have the skill, knowledge or experience that is required to go through the process. I am hoping that the various tertiary institutions will have their undergraduate programmes available soon! 

It was noted last week, among a number of us who practice as PrCHSAs, that we don’t have enough work, which means we have the capacity, and that means that projects don’t have a PrCHSA. There are close to 80 PrCHSAs in SA, and an equal number of candidates who should all have a mentor. When we complain we can’t keep up, then we will have an issue. 

We also need to develop and transform the sector. The H&S sector is the only sector that has many women in comparison to the project and construction managers. We need more, and if we are afforded the opportunity to tender or quote on projects, we can provide opportunities, mentor, and train the next generation of H&S practitioners.

THHP: What are the consequences to the industry if we don’t improve Health and Safety?

CD: Note that the statistics over the past 18 years have not dropped significantly. The status quo must change, nobody should go to work to die.

THHP: Whose responsibility is it to improve H&S?

CD: It’s a team effort, everyone on a project has a role to play, from the CEO to the worker doing the work. However, there was a significant shift in the amended Construction Regulations in 2014 to include very specific responsibilities by the client and the designers, and with contractors to make it a line responsibility.

The H&S persons on the site are not in control of the methods, constructability/buildability or programme, and there is the common statement by line/client/designers that often states that ‘it’s not my problem’. The accountability lies squarely with those who are the decision makers. The clients, CEOs, designers, line management, are at risk.

THHP: What is your organisation (Achasm) doing to ensure H&S is taken seriously by the construction industry?

CD: ACHASM is represented, as I stated, on many forums.  We interact through our presence at the SACPCMP. I have just completed serving on the 4th term council and was appointed on the 5th term.  We hold the only highly prestigious construction H&S conference, including at least one summit in various parts of the country. 

We offer workshops with CPD accreditation, often not only with our council but include QSs, architects, and we hope, soon, Engineers.  We place many research papers completed by myself and Prof John Smallwood on our website for those who need literature; we also have a spot in ‘National Safety’, a quarterly publication that covers a range of topics. 

We look for partnerships among our other built environment professionals (BEPs) VAs, and we will be offering a number of articles, presentations and activities to raise the awareness for construction H&S.

We also have chapter meetings, in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape (PE and Buffalo City), and Gauteng. We open the meetings to the other VAs and BEPs, as our topics are most often cross-cutting.

Our Registrar, Yasmeen Fort, is always available to assist with advice and send out enquiries for registered persons in the various categories as a support function and can be contacted at




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