The provision of accommodation for permanent and seasonal employees is a common phenomenon within the South African agricultural industry, even though there is no legal duty or requirement for the producer to do so. In any event, the owner of the property carries the legal responsibility to ensure that the building and construction are safe and do not impact the health or safety of any of its occupants.
There is also no specific piece of legislation regarding accommodation that has been developed specifically for farms or the agricultural sector. Therefore, producers should be guided by other existing legislation, South African National Standards, global guidance, and a detailed risk assessment regarding adequately safeguarding housing facilities.
The legal framework for employee accommodation on farms in South Africa is therefore determined by a combination of several Acts and Regulations, which includes the following:
- the Occupational Health and Safety Act (1993)
- the General Safety Regulations (1993)
- the Extension of Security Tenure Act (ESTA) (2007)
- Sectoral Determination: 13 Farm Worker Sector (2009)
- and the South African National Standards (SANS)
- and South African building regulations (Building Standards Act (1977).
- One should also take into account the relevant global guidelines such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Employees Housing Recommendation (1961), SA 8000 Accommodation guidelines and other standards requirements, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
As the legal foundation forms the basis, the emphasis during the audit will include the potential risk for which the producer is liable. Conducting a health and safety risk assessment at all housing facilities is the first and most crucial step toward ensuring the health and safety of all housing occupants. It is vital that the employer assess all hazards at housing facilities that can potentially cause risk to the health and safety of occupants. By identifying the hazards, the employer will be able to identify, plan and implement remedial actions to mitigate or reduce the risk of injuries or adverse health effects on housing occupants. The following are examples of hazards that are generally found at housing facilities:
- The location of housing facilities may pose a risk to the health and safety of occupants if it is located close to production units, dams, canals, and rivers. For example, the spraying of chemicals near housing facilities may pose a significant risk to the health of occupants.
- Structural damage to housing facilities may severely injure or even cause death to occupants due to structural collapse.
- Materials containing Asbestos, such as roof panels which are not in good condition, can cause adverse health effects.
- Contaminated drinking water can cause various health problems, such as cholera, giardia, and typhoid (disease).
- Poor waste management may lead to pest infestations.
- Unhygienic toilet and shower facilities may result in various health effects.
- Unsafe cooking practices, such as occupants not cooking in designated cooking areas, can cause fire and many more.
Cooking facilities remain a significant focus, and therefore producers should be guided by South African National Standards (SANS) 10400 Part T. Where employees cook their own food, there must be a designated space for cooking food with the following facilities:
- It must be separate from the sleeping areas in the living facility.
- The size of the cooking facilities must match the number of people living in the facility.
- Residents can cook on open fires as long as it takes place in a designated area.
It is important to note that cultural differences may result in different needs or application of these standards in many cases. Some people might prefer to cook in their rooms, regardless of the rules stipulating otherwise. The company must communicate the fire risk clearly to the employees and ensure adequate measures are in place for employees to have sufficient space available for cooking.
To better assist producers, SIZA has compiled a guideline, based on the different legislative requirements as indicated above, for producers to better manage the potential risks within their agri-worker accommodation. It also provides a comprehensive checklist as an addendum that can be used to assess housing and accommodation facilities. The guideline can be accessed from the Member Resources heading on your MySIZA profile.