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Ten Million One Hundred and Seventy Two Thousand. More or less. This is the number of people in South Africa currently engaged in some form of employment. That’s some ten million people who wake up in the morning and go to work (or work through the night) and who, during the course of that day, often risk sustaining injuries or contracting diseases while they are on duty.

Some of these are minor injuries and an employee can return to work after a few days or a few weeks. There are also more serious injuries which mean that an employee can no longer work, or can no longer work in the same position as previously. These conditions can range from cuts, fractures, paralysis, post-traumatic stress syndrome or even, sadly, to death.  

South Africa makes provision for compensation for injuries/ diseases on duty in cases where an employee is booked off work as a result thereof (beware, only if it is for more than three days), or where the employee suffers a permanent disability as a result of an injury on duty. This entire system is regulated by a central piece of legislation: Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 130 of 1993 (“COIDA”). This article will deal, briefly, with the obligation of employers to make sure that those ten million employees are properly protected and that incidents are timeously reported. Future articles in this series will focus on employee’s obligations, claims processes and dealing with the Workmen’s Compensation Fund as well as frequently asked questions by people who have been injured on duty.     

An employer is obligated to register with the Compensation Commissioner within seven days after the day on which she employs her first employee. In order to do this, the employer must obtain a W.AS.2 form (“Registration of an Employer”), fill it in and attach all of the requested supporting documentation. This form can be obtained online. During registration the employer must make sure to provide either a copy of the registration certificate for the company, or their ID document, if they are trading in their own name. Once all of the necessary documents have been submitted to the Compensation Commissioner, a registration number for that specific employer should be provided, ideally within 21 working days.

Once registration is confirmed, an employer is obligated to pay an annual assessment fee. This fee is paid into the Compensation Fund and is used towards the administration of the Fund. Calculating what an employer’s assessment fee will be is beyond the scope of this article, but the basic idea is that there are two factors that are taken into account: 1) the overall employee earnings in that business and 2) the risks associated with the job. There are specific categories of employment, each with their own specific rating and risk profile, when determining what the annual assessment fee for an employer will be.

Employers are warned that COIDA takes a strong position on employers who either do not register with the Fund, or who fail or refuse to pay their annual assessment fees. If an employee dies or suffers an injury at work, and the employer has failed to register with the Fund as is required, then that employer could face a fine up to the amount of compensation that the Fund has to pay to that employee or the employee’s dependants. The Act also provides that a failure to register, a failure to pay assessment fees and/ or a failure to pay a fine is an offence and could be subject to criminal prosecution.

If registration as an employer takes place timeously and all necessary fees are paid to the Compensation Fund then there is a little to worry about should an employee meet with a genuine accident (be it an injury or contracting a disease) while on duty. There are, nevertheless, a few duties that the employer must fulfil. Firstly, as soon as an employee meets with some form of injury on duty, an employer is obligated to fill in, sign and submit an Employer’s Report of an Accident form, or an Employer’s Report of an Occupational Disease form. It is important to note that any incident at a place of work that necessitates medical treatment means that an employer must fill in the necessary form and submit it within seven (7) days to the Fund, failing which there are harsh sanctions applicable.

Many employers are under the impression that if an employee is booked off work for a long period, that they may immediately stop paying a salary to that person. This is not the case. If an employee is booked off from work for more than three days as a result of a workplace injury / disease then the employer is obligated to pay that employee a temporary disability payment for three (3) months. This temporary disability payment should amount to 75% of that employee’s weekly earnings at the time that she met with the accident. After three months, and if the employee is still unable to be at work, then the Compensation Fund must take over the temporary disability payments, normally to a maximum of two (2) years and subject to certain statutory caps.

Compliance with COIDA can seem burdensome but employers are encouraged to take the necessary, relatively easy, steps to protect themselves and their employees. An employer should remember that the Compensation Fund acts as a type of insurance – so unless an employer is specifically found guilty of negligence leading to the injury/ disease, then an employee will not be able to claim for being injured at the work place, which can provide significant relief to employers, especially those engaged in riskier industries.