What is the Law on Injuries at Work?
When we talk about work, many of us picture a modern office block filled with desks, computers and fluorescent lights. Generally speaking, this isn’t the most dangerous environment on Earth and workplace injuries aren’t usually amongst our foremost thoughts. Others, however, have less comfortable jobs. They work on construction sites, farms and in factories and the threat of serious accidents is never far away. What is the Law on Injuries at Work?
In most cases, workers who suffer from occupational injuries and diseases are able to make claims from the Compensation Fund. Additionally, in cases involving a workplace death, dependents of the deceased may also make claims from the fund. Workers may either make the claims themselves or they may inform their employers who then have a legal obligation to report the incident within a given timeframe.
Regardless of where you work, you may have asked yourself a troubling question – What happens if I get injured? Worse still, once you get this idea into your head, other thoughts are sure to follow – Who will pay for my medical treatment? Would I qualify for a payout? Will I need to pay for everything myself? Well, before you start attending board meetings in a hard hat and high-visibility jacket, let’s see what the law has to say on the matter.
What is the Compensation Fund?
Under the purview of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act 130 of 1993, the Compensation Fund is designed to compensate most workers/workers’ dependents in the event of occupational injury, disease or death. This fund also protects employers from having to pay heavy legal claims themselves.
Who Pays for the Compensation Fund?
Registered employers are expected to finance this fund via levies which are based on a percentage or fixed rate of their employee’s annual earnings. It is important to note that workers are not expected to contribute towards this fund, and thus, employers may not deduct the cost of the payments from their employee’s wages/salaries.
Are you Entitled to Full Pay if you are Injured at Work?
It depends on the extent of your injury. The Compensation Fund has a complex formula that determines how much an individual will be paid after considering their level of disability. For example, a worker suffering from a temporary disability (ie, a broken leg) will normally receive 75% of the earnings that they were making at the time of their injury.
On the other hand, a worker with a permanent disability (ie, blindness) will be assessed to determine their percentage of disability as noted by the Act. Depending on the extent of the disability, the worker may be entitled to a lump sum or they may receive a monthly pension.
Employers are expected to pay compensation to their employees for the first 3 months following the injury, employers will be reimbursed by the fund at a later date. If the employee is still away from work after 3 months have passed, the fund will take over and handle the payments themselves. Again, it is important for injured workers to remember that, at the end of the day, overall compensation should be sought from the Compensation Fund and not from the employer.
What does the Law say about Injury on Duty?
Injuries on duty occur when an accident resulting in either personal injury, illness or death takes place while the worker is on duty and is doing something which was within the scope of their duty. Simply put, a worker must be at work and doing their job to become eligible for compensation.
Accidents caused by an individual’s own negligence or wrongdoing will not be compensated unless they result in serious disability or death.
Additionally, an individual who unreasonably or willfully neglects medical treatment will not receive compensation.
What is an Occupational Disease?
An occupational disease is a type of illness caused by either substance at the workplace or by certain work conditions. There is a long list of recognised occupational illnesses that can facilitate a successful compensation claim. Workers may make a claim based on an illness that is not listed if they are able to definitively prove that it was caused by their work conditions.
Does the Compensation Fund cover Commuting/Work-related Travel?
No, it does not. Workers who are injured in road accidents while travelling to and from work or while on duty (ie, chauffeurs) are expected to claim from the Road Accident Fund instead.
How Much Time do you Have to Claim from the Compensation Fund?
Occupational injuries, diseases and deaths must be reported to the employer as soon as possible, likewise, claims should be made with the fund as soon as possible. Employers who fail to report such incidents may be committing an offence and could be fined.
If a worker makes a claim or reports an occupational injury or illness to their employer 12 months after it has taken place/been diagnosed, they will not be eligible for compensation. Additionally, if an employee is off from work for 3 days or less, they will not be able to make a claim.
Who Cannot Claim from the Compensation Fund?
Apart from the aforementioned scenarios in which compensation will not be paid, there are also certain individuals who do not qualify for compensation when injured. This is often because they have their own compensation fund specific to their occupation. These individuals include –
- Domestic workers employed in private homes
- SANDF members
- SAPS members
- Workers not under the control of the employer (ie, sub-contractors (although those working under the sub-contractor are generally covered))
- Workers who worked outside of the country for more than 12 months without entering into a special agreement with the Director General of the Labour Department
In some cases, a claim may also be rejected if the employee lies about suffering from, or having once suffered from, a former disability.
Can you make a Claim Relating to a Former Workplace?
Yes, you can. Occasionally, an illness may not become apparent until the individual’s condition worsens. In such scenarios, the worker may make a claim even if they no longer work at the location which was responsible for the ailment. This is precisely why the fund accepts claims up to 12 months from the diagnosis of the illness rather than 12 months from its inception or first symptoms.
Can Claims be made for Pain and Suffering?
No, they cannot. The Compensation Fund only accepts claims for disabilities that impact the use and mobility of your body, claims relating to the pain and suffering caused by the incident will not be considered.
In Conclusion – What is the Law on Injuries at Work?
In most cases of occupational injury, disease or death, compensation can be sought from the Compensation Fund. This fund helps to cover employees who experience such events at the workplace while ensuring that employers are not overburdened with expensive legal claims. Employers are expected to pay money into the fund based on a percentage of their employee’s annual earnings. Employees themselves are not expected to contribute to this fund and, as such, employers may not deduct the payable amount from their earnings.
Generally speaking, only workers who are injured while on duty and while they are doing their jobs are entitled to compensation. In other words, if you are not at work when the injury occurs or if you are injured while doing something that is not related to your work role, you may not be eligible for compensation. Additionally, traffic injuries that occur in relation to work such as during a commute or when your occupation involves driving are paid out by the Road Accident Fund rather than by the Compensation Fund.
Illnesses caused by substances at the workplace or by certain work conditions may also provide a basis for a legitimate claim. Occasionally, these occupational diseases only manifest within the individual after a long period of time and, as such, workers are able to make claims relating to workplaces in which they are no longer employed. Workers may not make claims if their occupational injuries and diseases result from their own negligence or wrongdoing except in instances involving serious disabilities or death.
In the event of a worker’s death while at the workplace, their dependents may institute a claim. It is important to note, however, that you only have a limited amount of time to make a claim following the injury/death/diagnosis of illness. It is therefore in your best interests to institute a claim as soon as possible.
The number of payments received from the fund will depend on the nature of the disability, injuries such as broken limbs will usually result in payments of around 75% of the worker’s wages at the time of their injury while more serious disabilities, such as permanent blindness, will normally lead to things like a monthly pension. That said, the fund does not pay for pain or suffering and only focuses on the use and mobility of the individual’s body.
Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.
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