Sashef shares safety practice trends

Fifty SA safety practitioners met at a Sashef workshop in November 2011 in Woodmead in Johannesburg to discuss workplace safety trends.

Saacosh MD François Smith reported from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Chicago conference in 2011 that safety practice continues to move towards measuring and managing leading indicators, in a climate of open and honest communication, and not just depending on lagging indicators like incident reporting and incident investigations to manage safety incidents.

Safety design, research into similar oganisations and disaster analysis are part of the paradigm shift following a number of major disasters in the last two years.

Tried and ‘tested’ safety perceptions and methods should be updated. The Heinrich Triangle of incidents published in the 1940s, positing ratios between various incident severity frequency levels, better known as the Bird Triangle, does not apply to most work sites or even business sectors.

Many safety practitioners still use the Heinrich Triangle that assumes ratios of 1:10:30:600, while incident severities and frequencies may have no correlation, especially at work site or corporate level.

“Reducing the frequency of minor incidents do not guarantee that major risks are lowered. The inverse also applies, reducing major incidents to not guarantee that minor incidents would reduce”, Smith explained.

The international risk assessment standard ISO 31000, and a certification implementation guide, ISO 31010, is gaining acceptance worldwide.

The closest paralle to this standard, used in recent years in South Africa, is the Simrac guide to mining risk assessment. Risk terminology and vocabulary is also standardised in ISO guide 73.

Many root cause analyses still seek to blame incidents on unsafe actions by workers, while conditions, processes, systems, management and culture are typically flawed, and contribute to incidents. Blaming the final actor or ‘human error’ in long and broad chains of causes, is poor and ineffective safety practice.

Many incident investigation reports and audit reports continue to be ‘rationalised’ and ignored.

High reliability organizations (HROs) also share five inherent characteristics;
•Preoccupation with potential failures
•Reluctance to simplify
•Sensitivity to operations
•Commitment to resilience
•Deference to expertise

HROs were also found to focus on;
 Reliable communication systems
 Redundant control systems
 Highly trained and qualified people
 Systems safety
 Safety engineering
 Planning, preparation and drills
 Error prediction systems and precursors
 Audits and risk reviews on a brutally honest basis
 Technology applications
 High error margin and mindset
 Risk tolerance set consistently low.

Convince Generation Y workers

Times have changed from the days when most employees accepted that some actions were ruled to be unsafe, and blindly adhered to prescribed safety rules.

Managers are now required to explain why some actions are unsafe, and have to convince the new generation of workers, labelled Generation Y, on motivations for good safety practice, based on awareness of their own interest, said construction safety director Natalie Skeepers.

“Manners and methods of implementation should be innovative and managers should use new technology to create safety awareness”, she explained, citing differences between Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y with the aid of workplace communication dramatisation video clips.

One of the notable behaviours of Generation Y workers is to ask ‘why’ about legislation and workplace rules. Another is wearing ipod earphones and using social media to an almost antisocial extent.

Mangers should assess safety risks of using ipod earphones, find agreement with workers, and set clear and practical rules for ipod use.

Safety practitioners should be assigned to trained and experienced safety practitioners or internationally registered professionals, within or outside their companies.

Skeepers advised employers that occupational nurses should be trained in respirator choice and uses. Schools should develop risk management and emergency response plans, including school laboratories and public gatherings. Some employers are assisting schools in this effort.

Safety practice registration debate

Safety practice or safety professional affiliation to formal bodies offers some benefits, and is required of safety people who want to work internationally.

SA Mint safety manager Ronele Isaacs reminded the Sahef workshop that “there is a move in government to enforce safety practice registration”, starting with construction safety, even while “debate on the vagueness of this registration” and various problems with aspirant local registration bodies continue. editor SHEQafrica cautioned safety practitioners against asking the state to enforce registration, since drawbacks and costs would outweigh benefits. Safety practitioners and employers should ask authorities for centres of excellence supporting safety research, tertiary level training, qualification databases, and legislation.

Employers should also develop their own job specifications, recruitment quality assurance, career planning programmes, and skills retention programmes.

SA safety practice is not large enough to support an effective safety body, and may become formalised within quality management and auditing professional structures, where need for advocacy, representation, training standardisation, recognition of prior learning, certification and discipline could be reliably served.

Some leading Sashef members are registered as safety professionals with the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), and recommend it as the best resource for voluntary safety professional registration, representation, recognition of prior learning, continued professional development, and professional organisation. Other international bodies offering voluntary membership include ASP and CSP.

ASSE members in South Africa number only 20, but they may open a branch or chapter in South Africa. Safety practitioners who want to work in Africa or overseas, need an internationally recognised affiliation.

Sashef to formalise meetings

“Views of safety officers and executive level managers are not much different, I am glad to say”, commented presenter Sashef organiser Ronele Isaacs. “But opinions and views differ on some issues which allowed for open lively debate.”

SASHEF forum hosts for 2012 include Eskom and Sasol. Site safety tours may be part of Sashef forum meetings in 2012. SASHEF aims to meet four times in 2012 in Johannesburg, and in other centres.

• Visit the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) at

PHOTO; Sashef co-organiser, Natalie Skeepers.

DISPLAY PHOTOS; Sashef presenters Francois Smith and Natalie Skeepers, with Sashef organiser Ronele Isaacs.

Sashef workshop delegates included Eskom safety official Musiiwa Luvhengo, Sasol occupational safety senior practitioners Tabisa Tsubele and Nontuthuko Mchunu, and UJ Environmental Health lecturer Martha Chadyiwa.

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