According to a 2011 survey by Du Pont, only 35% of South African chemicals suppliers and users believe that their occupational health and safety policies are adequate, testable by review, and subject to continuous improvement.
Only 35% of employers handling chemicals, seek new measures to protect their employees, said the consultant.
Lizette Kasselman, sales specialist at Du Pont, said their survey illustrates “a general apathy among employers in manufacturing and engineering sectors.”
Chemicals manufacturers and suppliers, represented by the Chemicals and Allied Industries Association, CAIA, commented on the survey that they were not approached for data.
“The Responsible Care (RC) Health and Safety Management Practice Standard implemented by RC signatories, is verified during RC third party audits, to protect workers and public on or near chemical manufacturing and processing plants, bulk storage facilities, warehouses, waste disposal sites and laboratories”, said RC Manager Louise Lindeque.
The RC Health and Safety management standard audit protocol includes sections that focus on aspects of:
• Risk assessment
• Incident investigation and corrective action of each incident that resulted or could result in occupational illness or injury
• Employee participation in site health and safety programmes
• Employee health and safety training
• Safe work practices, operating procedures and maintenance activities, including commissioning, startup, running and emergency procedures
• Health assessments based on job specifications, to determine employee medical fitness for specific job tasks by medical personnel familiar with workplace conditionsDesigning programmes to assure that employees in safety critical jobs are fit for duty
• Tailoring employee occupational medical surveillance programmes to worksite hazards, including workplace risk assessments and appropriate medical examinations
• Providing emergency medical assistance for people at worksites, including first aid facilities and training
• Selecting, maintaining and using appropriate systems to verify health and safety equipment.
“Continual improvement in health and safety performance is a fundamental feature of the RC initiative, and signatories constantly work on improving their policies and programmes”, said RC manager Louise Lindeque.
The Reportable Injury Incident Rate (RIIR) and Occupational Illness Incident Rate (OIIR) of RC signatories have shown improvement in recent years, as reported on SHEQafrica.com last year. “We are constantly working towards further improvement.
“We have identified areas where RC signatories performance are not up to standard, notably incidents relating to chemical storage and transport of dangerous goods, as these have increased significantly in 2009. Signatories are working in 2010 and 2011 to improve performance in these areas.”
RC also has to implement the RC Product Stewardship Management Practice Standard, requiring signatories to support their clients by material safety data sheets (MSDSs), site risk assessments, product summaries, and sharing of critical safety information relevant to hazardous products.
These support initiatives are also audited by third party verification. Some signatories are well advanced with implementation of these practices in 2011, while others have started implementation.
There are 10 new Product Stewardship indicators of performance that were added to the RC quantitative indicators of performance in the past two years. Two of the indicators focus on MSDSs.
“We will include these new indicators in the 2011 RC Performance Report and will add more product stewardship related indicators,” said Lindeque.
Du Pont survey questioned
RC raised several questions about the format, method and validity of the apparently informal Du Pont survey.
Du Pont infers from their survey figures that that rising production levels and new types of chemicals, of varying hazard levels, are among the factors raising chemicals exposure of South African workers.
“Employers’ health and safety compliance, standards, and personal protective equipment (PPE) should grow and evolve as exposure changes,” the consultant said.
PPE quality questioned
Du Pont advise employers that health and safety legislation requires employers to providing exposed workers with “equipment that meet or exceed base requirements necessary to safeguard against the materials they are routinely exposed to”.
Commenting on PPE quality, Kasselman said that CE marks are declarations by PPE manufacturers that every marked product complies with relevant European health, safety and environmental protection legislation. The CE mark is recognised in Africa as “a required protection standard for hazardous environments.”
Kasselman notes that personal protective equipment (PPE) should match risk environments and categories. PPE types and designs are graded for three exposure risk categories; low, medium and high. Each category requires more stringent production certification and quality controls.
• Category 1 PPE should be used in low exposure risk environments. These protective items are self-certified by manufacturers, like sunglasses and raincoats.
• Category 3 chemical protection PPE, for use in high exposure risk environments, should be subject to stringent chemical permeation testing, audited by a quality assurance body.
Kasselman advised employers to choose PPE suppliers that adhere to the highest recognised safety standards, request copies of PPE suppliers’ safety policies, and manufacturers’ declarations, stipulating that the product complies with essential requirements relevant to health, safety and environmental legislation.
The South African OHS Act, however, does not prescribe PPE types or PPE specifications. Employers have to assess risks to workers, adequately and reasonably prevent exposure to hazards, including harmful substances, and inform workers of their risks and of health and safety measures.
Leading employers view PPE as a last resort to guard against potential failure of other exposure prevention methods, like packaging, handling, storage, labelling, issuing regimes, decanting equipment, training, automation, and a host of other engineering and process measures.
PHOTO; Lizette Kasselman, sales specialist at Du Pont, said their informal survey illustrates “a general [health and safety management] apathy among employers in manufacturing and engineering sectors.” Responsible Care comment that chemicals employers bodies were not informed, not approached to participate in the survey.