The failure to adhere to the Occupational Health and Safety Act’s (OHSA’s) obligation for employees to maintain safe environments without health risks may result in devastating economic and human costs, says the Department of Labour (DoL).
To address this issue, the DoL hosted a seminar on hazardous biological agents (HBAs) to promote occupational health and safety (OHS) towards the end of last year.
In South Africa, employees in the health sector are exposed to HBAs, owing to their exposure to patients suffering from various infectious diseases.The
DoL stated that adherence to OHS legislation still posed a challenge, as was revealed by statistics from the Workmen’s Compensation Fund (WCF) – therefore, the semi- nar was introduced. CF statistics show an increase in claims paid to service providers owing to occupational injuries and diseases.
The department says that, following inspections in inland public hospitals, areas of noncompliance were identified. These noncompliance areas included risk assessments not being conducted; evaluation of hazards to exposure and control measures not being carried out; employees not inducted and trained on sources of exposure; medical surveillance not conducted; and nonprovision of personal protective-equipment for employees.
The seminar, themed ‘Improving, addressed a wide spectrum of shop stewards, as well as health and safety representatives on the OSHA and its regulations.
DoL occupational health and hygiene director Milly Ruiters emphasised the lawful duty of employers, as well as employees, in ensuring that workplaces are free of injuries, diseases and worker deaths. The role of health and safety representatives and committees, and the employer, was critical in ensuring workplaces that are free of injuries.
The attendees of the seminar were informed by Ruiters that employees had to provide workplaces with a health and safety management system; conduct regular risk-related assessments; mitigate all hazards before resorting to protective wear; provide employees with information and supervision; and provide a means to enforce health and safety measures in the workplace.
Shop stewards were informed that employees had equal responsibility in taking “reasonable care” of their own health and safety, as well as those of others who might be affected by their acts or omissions thereof. Also, employees had to give their cooperation to their employer to achieve compliance with the OSHA and report any unsafe situation that might be a threat to their colleagues’ safety or lives.
Central to this, Ruiters said, the duty not to interfere with health and safety policies was fundamental in that no person should intentionally or recklessly interfere with, damage or misuse anything which was provided in the interest of health and safety. Health and safety representatives might review measures put in place, identify potential hazards, examine the cause of inci- dents, investigate worker complaints and channel recommenda- tions to the employer, the health and safety committee or a labour inspector.