The South African Society of Occupational Medicine, Sasom, is honoured in an SA standard postage stamp issue of 20 March 2009, designed by Peter Sibanda, in a print run of 30 000. Sales of the special stamps sheet continued in 2010.
Occupational Health (OH) is explained by Sasom as concerned with determining, protecting, maintaining and promoting the health of workers while at work. Statutes and regulations, national and international standards, policies and agreements regulate OH.
In South Africa the two most important acts in this field are the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993) and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (Act 130 of 1993). OH touches on and sometimes overlaps with occupational safety, occupational hygiene and employee wellness, and involves every single employer and worker.
OH services are rendered by occupational medicine practitioners and occupational nursing practitioners; doctors and professional nurses who have obtained an additional post graduate diploma or degree in occupational health.
Where occupational health is in place, compensation expenditure is reduced, manpower is used better, absenteeism declines, productivity improves, job satisfaction increases, labour relations are sound and legal compliance is sought.
Eight OH services
Sasom lists eight OH services, although only five types of OH management interventions are illustrated in the stamp series.
1. Occupational risk profiling. Employees are exposed to various hazards at work. Based on individual job descriptions and risk assessments, OH identifies hazards that pose risks to the health of each worker by means of certain calculations.
OH schedules meetings and workplace visits with all the parties concerned and together they compile unique occupational risk profiles for all positions. These profiles are used to draft job specifications, determine fitness for work, and inform medical surveillance programmes, training and the design of personal protective equipment, PPE.
2. Initial health evaluation. Occupational risk profiles are used to set up job specifications, as specific physical and medical requirements of a job. These specifications are used to evaluate fitness for work before workers are appointed, placed, transferred, promoted, demoted or seconded. Inherent job requirements are taken into account.
3. Medical surveillance. According to the law, workers exposed to certain risks in their workplaces should be placed under medical surveillance to ensure that their health is not compromised and, should it be, that the effects are identified timely and managed accordingly.
It consists of periodic medical examinations and biological monitoring (laboratory and other tests). Medical surveillance includes initial health evaluations, periodic medical evaluations and, for some categories of workers, exit health evaluations.
It also includes immunisation against Hepatitis B and Tetanus, conditions that might occur as a result of the particular job. Medical surveillance programmes are designed, developed and implemented based on the occupational risk profile of each job.
4. Personal protective equipment, PPE, is issued to protect workers against certain hazards in the workplace. It includes hard hats, safety shoes, gloves, eye and hearing protection, and other relevant items. Occupational risk profiles are used to identify workers who need to wear PPE and the specific type of equipment required.
5. Medical incapacity investigations. Workers can become unable to do all or a substantial part of their work due to medical conditions or injuries. These conditions could be permanent or temporary. OH determines affected workers’ fitness for work.
6. Support to management in the management of sick leave. Management should manage workers’ sick leave in terms of absenteeism patterns, number of times absent, days of the week, time of the month, different doctors being consulted, etc. The main OH function is to manage queries and to determine if the medical condition could be detrimental to the worker’s work or vice versa.
7. First aid. The law prescribes the availability, contents and number of first aid boxes in workplaces according to the type and place of work and number of workers. It also makes provision for the training and appointment of first aiders. OH assists management in complying with legislation.
8. Investigation of injuries on duty and occupational diseases. Injuries on duty are injuries arising from and in the course of the employment of workers at specific times, dates and places. Occupational diseases are medical conditions due to exposure to certain hazards in the course of employment.
These include conditions like asbestosis, occupational asthma and post-traumatic stress syndrome. All injuries on duty and occupational diseases must be reported to the Compensation Commissioner in the prescribed manner. OH is part of the investigating team and assists in managing and reporting on the injuries and diseases.
The societies who look after worker interests are the SA Society of Occupational Medicine (Sasom) and the South African Society of Occupational Health Nursing Practitioners (Sasohn).
Five OH stamps themes
1 Ergonomics in the office; Correct posture includes 90° bends at knees, hips, elbows. Angles of head and computer screen are illustrated, as well as range of stretch to work, from telephone, files on table and dustbin on floor.
2 Medical Surveillance; worker in audio booth with earphones and remote in hand. Official at table with snapshot on computer. The words “Audio booth, ear testing” on booth.
3 Personal Protective Equipment; Burning building, firemen in full gear spraying water. Fire engine in background.
3 Ensure a safe workplace; workshop, fixed machines, demarcated around machines and walkways. Signage include ear protection, safety shoes, and other PPE.
4 Legally required training; Classroom with workers at desks. Trainer at white board, labeled ‘Manual Material Handling’, three pictures indicating how to stand next to a parcel of 15 kg, to pick it up, squat to lift parcel, and carry parcel near the body.
* Visit www.sasom.org.za and www.sasohn.org.za
PHOTO; One of the five OH themes illustrated on the set of SA postage stamps, is workplace safety management.