Inspectors in ‘zero’ risk tolerance debate

Enforcing H&S measures against a ‘zero fatalities’ risk tolerance, will be debated with DOL and DMR inspectors at a seminar on 3 June 2010 in Kempton Park.

Department of Labour as well as Department of Mineral Resources officials will attend an annual Mine and Occupational Health and Safety Seminar on 3 June at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park, to field debate on enforcement levels of safety measures, and benchmarking of industrial and mining workplace risk tolerance levels.

The seminar, presented by law firm Brink Cohen Le Roux, and hosted by LexisNexis, deals with compliance issues relevant to industries accountable under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993 and the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1996.

“The issue in contention is the level of risk accepted by government agencies before they take steps against an organisation,” says occupational health and safety law expert Willem Le Roux.

“In many cases the target is zero fatalities, although in reality this is not achievable, considering the hazards associated with the work environment in mining, forestry, fishing and other industries.

“Unfortunately, the zero harm safety target is often confused with the legal safety standard of measures employers must take to ensure the safety of their employees.”

Le Roux argues that government’s ‘zero harm’ approach resulted in the unlawful closure of entire mines and a 10% to 14% drop in productivity, exports and profits suffered by the mining industry in the last year.

“It has therefore become vital to debate the measure of risk allowable across various industries,” Le Roux points out.

The opening address of the seminar will be given by the Acting Chief Inspector of the Department of Mineral Resources, Mthokozisi Zondi.  Le Roux will offer a presentation on the tolerability level of risk in law, by referring to legal criteria of a ‘reasonable person.’

Pieter Colyn, an expert on mine and occupational health and safety law and director of Brink Cohen Le Roux, will address the powers of the inspectorate to close a workplace.

Other experts will speak to the statistical risk of death in and outside the workplace and across different industries, as well as engineering considerations in the tolerability of risk.

An interactive panel discussion between representatives from the Department of Labour, the Department of Mineral Resources and legal experts will consider the criterion of safety in the workplace, the application thereof by government, and a way forward for government and industry.

Employers will be advised about relevant laws and measures of safety they are obliged to take, and legal aspects of risk assessment and risk management.

Individuals who should attend the seminar include company directors and managers, mine and SHEQ managers, as well as HR practitioners.

* June 3 Mining and industrial OHS seminar on enforcement and risk tolerance, at Emperors Palace, Kempton Park; hosted by Brink Cohen Le Roux and LexisNexis; or 031 268 3255 /3052

Comment editor SHEQafrica comments; See the separate debate about the relative value of ‘zero harm’ mottos, elsewhere on this website.

That debate includes the perspective that the state applies concepts of tolerance within a limited enforcement paradigm, while employers apply the same motto within a social responsibility paradigm, of which compliance is a minimum component.

To various interest groups with the state and business, ‘zero’ and ‘harm’ mean different things in different time and situations. Inspectors, prosescutors, judges, employers, employees, and the public would misunderstand one another when using and hearing these terms.

Even if enforcement and safety practice were to be stripped of these concepts with their attendant assumptions and metrics, risk tolerance to all players remain a moving goalpost.

Visitors are invited to comment on this post, or on the ‘zero harm’ motto issue, in the COMMENT bloc that follows after the RELATED POSTS block below this post.

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