A proposed bill seeks to speed up magisterial inquiries by involving the OHSA in court investigations into workplace accidents.
The Occupational Health and Safety Authority is charged with overseeing workplace safety. It seeks “to ensure that the physical, psychological and social well-being of all workers in all workplaces,” according to the agency’s website.
As it stands the authority can investigate any matter related to occupational safety including death or injury. However, the agency is not involved in magisterial inquiries.
Should it get parliament's approval, the new law means that the OHSA will be participating directly in court investigations.
“The bill will allow inquiries to be quicker,” a spokesperson for the planning ministry said. “Many magisterial inquiries are still pending,” he added.
Should the bill become law, the presiding magistrate will be obliged to take on one or more OHSA officers to be present during the inquest. They will be allowed “to ask questions to witnesses and experts during all sittings held during the inquest and to file a report which shall form part of the acts of the inquest,” the draft bill says.
The bill passed its first reading on Monday and was published on the government gazette on Friday.
Much of the OHSA’s work is focused on construction, the country’s deadliest industry. The safety authority reported 19 fatalities between 2019 and 2021, 17 of them on construction sites.
Figures tabled to parliament, late last November show that nearly two-thirds of magisterial inquiries into construction site deaths and major injuries in the last five years remain open.
Since 2017, magistrates have been asked to investigate major incidents at construction sites involving serious injuries or deaths 59 times. Of these, 25 have been concluded but 34 remain pending.
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