The free conference at Birchwood, Boksburg, is themed on ‘Road to Zero’, will be addressed by SA Labour minister Mildred Oliphant on the last day, in her first appearance at a public health and safety meeting since her appointment a year ago.
The controversial ‘zero’ motto implies a goal of zero workplace deaths, injuries and diseases, or ‘harm’, but could also be interpreted as zero tolerance on legal compliance.
SA Labour minister Oliphant, a former labour union official in KZN province, has a “programme of action aimed at ensuring a decent and safe working environment, as well as monitoring impact on legislation and strengthening institutional capacity of the Department.”
SA’s ‘decent work’ motto is based on an International Labour Organisation (ILO) motto. ‘Impact on legislation’ apparently refers to the need to update legislation regularly, in line with evolving technology.
Impacts of legislation are difficult to quantify, but some research, like a Master Association Gauteng paper by Colin de Kock presented in the presence of labour inspectors some five years ago, noted increased construction injuries directly following promulgation of the OHS Act Construction Regulations, which have been in review for about three years and could be amended in 2012.
Some sectors, notably construction, complain that legislation requires onerous documentation of safety files, resulting in health and safety people or managers remaining office bound, unable to actively manage safety on their sites.
‘Compliance is a team effort’
Minister Oliphant said that safety is pivotal to productivity. “Interaction [with OHS functionaries at the conference] would help to improve compliance with occupational health and hygiene standards and legislation. This requires a team effort and interaction between the department, employers, workers and industry bodies.”
Construction health and safety is served by about 12 organisations, while several bodies and labour unions serve OHS functions in sectors like steel, transport, rail, auto, manufacture, agriculture, food, beverage, electrical, gas, retail, and others.
DOL directors and inspectors aim to use the conference to raise compliance levels, and to call government, state, labour, employers, and professional occupational health and hygiene (OHH) bodies to account on fulfilling their duties. “If we are, why are workers injured and diseased?”, asks the open invitation to OHS functionaries.
The venue accommodates a thousand delegates, aimed at labour inspectors, industry sectoral organisations with OHS functions, labour unions, occupational hygienists, occupational medical practitioners, occupational health nurses, and safety advisors.
Compensation numbers rising
The South African Department of Labour (DOL) Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES) notes a “worrying escalating trend” in injuries, as measured by Compensation Fund payouts. However, many injuries are not reported, and Compensation Commissioner (CC) services and administration have been in disarray for years, as reported on SHEQafrica.com last year.
Compensation payout is therefore not a true reflection of general business trends in non-mining and non-construction sectors. Compensation to mine workers is paid from a different fund, and construction employers have to contribute to the FEM fund (see SHEQafrica.com report on FEM 2011 figures).
The labour conference aims “to highlight the state of occupational health and safety (OHS) in South Africa, assess how the country’s organisations measure up, and reinforce the safety message.”
Department of Labour Compensation Fund (CF) payouts in terms of the OHS Act and Compensation Act showed a “dramatic rise in number of claims paid to [medical] service providers”.
In 2009 claims paid to workers and medical service providers was R2.17-billion, increased in 2010 to R2.28-billion, and in 2011to R2.71-billion. The last figure responded to 872 720 claims last year.
The Compensation Fund pays for reported deaths or disablement by occupational injuries or diseases. High risk industrial sectors, where most injuries are proven to be sustained, are;
• iron and steel
• building and construction
• food, beverage and tobacco.
Department of Labour Health and Hygiene director Milly Ruiters said the department aims to “meet stakeholders and raise awareness on imperatives of occupational safety”, noting that “work environments and changing ergonomics in industry requires OHS vigilance in the workplace.”
DOL OHS conference presenters include;
• Department of Labour deputy director general of inspection and enforcement, Siyanda Nxawe
• International Labour Organisation (ILO)
• Afternoon breakaway sessions choice between Occupational Health and Hygiene, versus Occupational Safety
• Business leaders
• Industry bodies
• Labour federations.
Presentation themes include;
• risk management
• risk assessment
• construction health and safety design
• ergonomics design
• construction ergonomics
• systems to assist occupational health and hygiene staff
• HIV and TB at work
• medical surveillance
• biological monitoring
• health and safety in SMEs
• informal economy OHS.
DOL inspectors enforce these laws:
• Occupational Health and Safety Act
• Basic Conditions of Employment Act
• Employment Equity Act
• Compensation Act .
DOL also provides “technical support like training on new and amended OHS directives and regulations.”
Occupational health and safety programmes should protect workers, employers, customers, suppliers, nearby communities, and public who are impacted by workplace environments.
OHS Act review continues
Ruiters said the Department of Labour was still on track to review OHS legislation, noting that large employers have dedicated OHS units, while small and medium businesses (SMEs) were struggling to keep OHS matters on the radar and to afford relevant measures.
Ruiters advises employers to institute precautionary measures, rather than dealing with cost implications after incidents, like lost time and business reputation. “Cost implication of not adhering to OHS legislation alone provides a clear obligation to renew and redouble our efforts to improve workplace health and safety.”
PHOTO; SA Labour minister Mildred Oliphant supports the concept of ‘zero harm’ at a conference in March 2012, in her first appearance at a public health and safety meeting since her appointment a year ago.