Legal Interpretation Is Not Always A DIY

I have decided that attempting to improve the service at the Compensation Fund of the Department of Labour, as it is lately called, is an utter waste of time. They are apparently fully aware of the chaotic situation at the “office” judging from the evidence presented at portfolio committees of Parliament from time to time.  Between them and who they blame for the present situation there is apparently no solution, only wasted funds. I will rather attempt to write you a cryptic manual on the Act itself to assist, if possible, with your administration of your Injuries on Duty (IOD’s).

Definitions in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 1993 (COIDA)

I have over the years met many people who, after reading the Act in detail, tend to give their own interpretations to the words and phrases contained therein. They might underestimate the drafters of the statute or it might also be simple ignorance of how to go about. The golden rule, however, is to revert to the definitions contained in section 1 of COIDA in which the definitions of a large number of words and phrases can be found. A definition of such words and phrases can only mean what it is intended for. That my dear friends is the good news, the bad news is that even these definitions can in themselves be ambiguous or too vague. It is, therefore, not surprising that there are hundreds of cases that have been presented to our courts of law, many at the highest court of appeal. These judgements, binding on us all, give the final interpretation of what is intended by the definition in the Act.

Let me give you a few examples to illustrate the point. The word “accident” appears in numerous places in the COIDA. It might sound a simple and self explanatory word that you yourself can interpret. Caveat my friend; there are many judgements in our case law that rebut this idea. The definition reads as follows:

(i) “accident” means an accident arising out of and in the course of an employee’s employment and resulting in a personal injury, illness or the death of the employee; (xxiv)

You will note that there are three elements contained in this definition namely:

  1. “arising out of..”
  2. “in the course of..” and
  3. “personal injury”

There is such a large number of cases associated with these three elements that I cannot even consider listing them, not even the more important ones. Apart from the fact that I lack the space to do that, this is also not a freebie column, after all even consultants must make a living.

Another example of an important definition is that of an “employee”. Although quite a lengthy one you should make sure that you are familiar with the contents thereof. The State is very sensitive about the worker’s rights so read it and make sure you know what it means. The crux of the definition is whether a person has entered into a contract of service as opposed to a contract for service. Again, over the years the courts have spent many hours debating and deciding on this question. Some of the judgements are so voluminous that it resembles a legal handbook dealing with the law of contract going back to the ancient Roman law.


You cannot read the Act in isolation without:

  1. Reverting to the definitions in section 1 of the COIDA; and
  2. Keeping in mind that many of the definitions were considered by the courts and these judgements form part of the definitions.

Remember the interpretation of Statutes (Acts) is not an easy task. It takes an experienced individual to do that. If in doubt, contact such a person. I am afraid you will not find much assistance from the state department administering the Act. The expertise is missing and to re-establish it will take many years.

Till the next instalment in December 2010 of the manual.