The Labour department is hosting a series of seminars to raise awareness of workplace health and safety issues after an increase in incidents and compensation claims.
The first was in Port Elizabeth on August 26 and 27 to focus on the iron and steel industry, which tops the number of claims submitted, said Labour chief inspector Thobile Lamati.
Lamati said the department would talk with representatives of the construction industry in Gauteng in October to make the work environment healthier.
Another seminar was planned for KwaZulu -Natal, focusing on the forestry sector and people operating sawmills, where people were exposed to dust and fumes.
“We have asked employers who are part of the iron and steel industry and also organised labour in that sector to be part of the seminar,” he said.
“There needs to be a collaborative approach where employers also need to come on board about safety at work.”
The secondary steel producers, in particular, were found to contribute most to the incidents in that sector, with noise-induced hearing loss highly prevalent, said Lamati.
The sector makes steel products for industries such as motor vehicle manufacturers.
He said that R2.2 billion was paid out to employees and service providers in the 2009/10 financial year, compared with R2.1bn in the 2008/2009 financial year.
“We decided that we need to educate those people, make sure employers are aware of their responsibility in terms of occupational health and safety.”
He said that even casual labourers were entitled to protection and to claim compensation if they were injured.
“The definition of an employee is if an employer takes you and undertakes to remunerate you for the services you are going to render. Therefore you are qualified as an employee and therefore you qualify for compensation,” he said.
Whether the employee was registered on the company’s books or registered with the department was a separate issue, he said.
“They do have recourse because they are on duty.”
In a statement, Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana said it was important that employees knew about the hazards associated with their work.
The department’s “national priorities” include reduction of noise induced hearing loss; reduction of silicosis in the non-mining industry; enforcement of the hazardous biological agents regulations; amendment of hazardous chemical substances, asbestos regulations; and the promulgation of regulations that regulate the packaging and labelling of chemicals in South Africa.
“As the department, we are aware of the fact that inspections alone may not ensure that employers comply. Education also plays a very important role in changing the way people think and see things,” Mdladlana said.