Occupational Health and Safety

Safety is ever a concern in the workplace.

Occupational Health and Safety

Source – https://www.news24.com/fin24/economy/labour-report-shows-long-road-ahead-for-improving-occupational-health-and-safety-20210730

“Labour report shows long road ahead for improving occupational health and safety
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Khulekani Magubane

Claims to the Compensation Fund reached over R4 billion in 2016/17 and medical costs account for 66% to 71% of claims.
Mining industry reported injuries declined to a rate of 1 incident per 150 employees per year.
The highest health and safety compliance rate was noted in construction while the lowest compliance was in manufacturing and retail.
There is a worrying lack of compliance with occupational health and safety standards in some sectors, and the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted some of the critical gaps in keeping employees safe.

This is according to a new report on occupational health and safety by the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL). South Africa is a member of the International Labour Organisation, and the report was jointly commissioned by the ILO and DEL.

Launching the Profile of Occupational Health and Safety South Africa report on Friday, the DEL said safety was still a key concern in some sectors.

According to the report, the monetary value of claims to the Compensation Fund under the department has been rising over the years and reached over R4 billion in 2016/17.

Medical costs account for 66% to 71% of claims.

Worrying compliance levels

According to the report, the number of workplace inspections by the department has grown steadily from 180 818 in 2014/15 to 218 919 in 2018/19. The number of inspectors per employees has also been increased.

However, it raised the alarm regarding compliance with health and safety standards seen in inspections, saying the lowest compliance was in the manufacturing sector with only 241 out of 542 employers in the sector complying, followed by retail, with 996 out of 1897 employers complying.

The highest was in the construction sector, with 3 919 out of 4 725 employers complying; and agriculture, with 461 out of 622 inspected employers complying.

The mining industry reported that injuries declined from 3 036 injuries in 2015 to 2 350 in 2018, amounting to a rate of 1 incident per 150 employees per year. However, fatalities remain a challenge, the report said.

In July, the Minerals Council of South Africa (MCSA) said a total of 32 mineworkers had died to date this year in the country’s mines – an increase from the rate seen a year ago.

Apart from differences between sectors, occupational health and safety specialist Spoponki Kgalamono said there was still a critical gap in SA when it came to the informal economy and work changes introduced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic it was evident that the national…system was disjointed. As noted by the department and work streams and academia, the efforts of strengthening these systems have allowed us to protect workers, particularly during outbreaks,” said Kgalamono.

Deputy Minister of Labour and Employment Boitumelo Moloi said a lack of recorded data on diseases was a critical gap.

Making changes

The release of the OHS report is part of developing a comprehensive strategy and policy for the prevention of occupational health and safety hazards for employees and reforming the inspection and compensation regime.

Labour and Employment director general Thobile Lamati said the report was not just about occupational health and safety, for which the Department of Employment and Labour is responsible, but also covered all aspects of occupational health and safety in South Africa.

“We are now on the cusp of the development of the fifth OHS Act which I believe will revolutionise the current health and safety practises and offers greater protection for workers, while equally protecting complying employers.

“This bill was the culmination of years of stakeholder and partner interaction at Nedlac. The bill has been approved for public comment by the Cabinet of South Africa,” said Lamati.

Lamati said all government departments and entities, state and non-statutory institutions responsible for occupational health and safety had contributed, as well as business and unions.

Inspector-General of inspections and enforcements at the Department of Employment and Labour Aggy Moiloa said there was also an economic benefit to ensuring employees are kept safe.

“It should not be misconstrued that these are just limited to the human element. It can be argued that a sound national OHS profile would bode well for the health of the economy as well,” said Moiloa.

Business Unity South Africa board member Deidre Penfold said employees have responded positively to efforts to improve occupational health and safety. The report gave useful guidance on where OHS could be improved, Penfold said.

But Black Business Council CEO Gregory Mofokeng noncompliance remained unacceptably high and welcomed the opportunity to address problems.

“We want to work with government and hold accountable all of the businesses that merely pay lip service to occupational health and safety. We will dedicate our resources to realise a reduction of the incidences we are seeing in workplaces,” said Mofokeng.

Mofokeng said healthcare sector improvements were essential to creating complete coverage for injured and ill workers, along with movement in capacitating the National Health Insurance.

Federation of Unions of South Africa general secretary Reifdah Ajam said the report was long overdue.

Cosatu deputy secretary general Solly Phetoe agreed, flagging difficulties with compensation claims.

Compensation Fund commissioner Vuyo Mafat, however, said “the priority should remain to prevent, decrease and eradicate occupational health and safety hazards in the workplace”, adding that illness and injury resulted in a loss of skills to the economy.”

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