Health and safety practitioners need to develop a technology roadmap to provide a foundation for planning aspects of safety that support technological advancements, says Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) director-general Thobile Lamati.
“The roadmap will allow for the expansion or redevelopment of the overall safety strategy [for their companies],” he said when delivering his keynote address at the Saiosh 2019 Conference, held in May at the Gallagher Convention Centre, in Midrand.
Lamati noted that strategy was much needed in safety, where, all too often, efforts constituted a group of programmes directed at lagging indicators, with major actions often reactive rather than proactive.
“Strategy recognises that success is more than avoiding failure, and outcomes are the result of processes and performance. Strategy aligns the processes and performance according to strategic methodologies.
“The most excellent safety strategies begin with the mindset that workers are not a problem to be controlled but rather the customers of safety efforts,” said Lamati.
“The strategy should be centred around adding value to those customers to enable them to do their jobs more safely. New technology can enable the organisation to move up the hierarchy of controls, eliminating employee exposure and relying less on administrative controls.”
Lamati emphasised that the “Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upon us”.
The 4IR has started to impact on other professions and occupational health and safety (OHS) practitioners are not immune, says industry body South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Saiosh) president Sanjay Munnoo.
Lamati said production was happening without people and there where steps practitioners needed to take to leverage the 4IR and, thereby, shape workplaces into human-centred institutions. His views were largely informed by international safety and performance excellence firm ProAct Safety CEO Terry Mathis.
Practitioners needed to become more familiar with emerging technologies to support safety efforts, stated Lamati.
“You cannot manage something that you don’t know. New products [such as drones, robots, wearables for workers, proximity sensors for vehicles and even smart personal protective equipment] are being developed at an incredible pace . . . health and safety professionals will find that they need either more time, exposure [and] professional help from their information technology departments or even a dedicated safety technician.”
Lamati noted that the DEL, and government in general, concurred with the value of leveraging technology to improve efficiency as a labour market regulator.
Technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and sensors, carried countless opportunities to improve work, he added.
The extraction of knowledge using data could assist in identifying high-risk sectors and, importantly, improve the efficacy of the DEL’s inspection system, as the department would never have the number of inspectors required to monitor the levels of compliance with labour laws, Lamati stated.
“Leveraging technology, partnering with you as health and safety practitioners, and the professional bodies such as Saiosh, we can ensure that the use of technology supports the decent work agenda and, thereby, helps us to shape our workplaces into human-centred institutions,” Lamati said.
Saiosh regards safety, health, environment and quality management as a strategic partner and knowledge base that supports innovation, flexibility and openness to new and advanced thinking about OHS.
“The institute enables OHS specialists to develop and adapt their professional practice to changing demands of business and society,” notes Munnoo.
There is a massive shortage of chartered members applying for Saiosh registration, says Munnoo.
As at June 30, this year, Saiosh had a membership of 13 530, says Saiosh CEO Neels Nortje.
However, the institute’s membership continues to grow, with an average growth rate of 200 new members a month, despite South Africa’s economic downturn.
Health and safety professionals are challenged by the impact of the country’s economic downturn on health and safety expenditure, and a subsequent lack of job opportunities, which have led to key professionals emigrating or seeking alternative careers.
Regardless, Saiosh believes that the number of health and safety professionals in South Africa will continue to increase, especially in light of the planned African Continental Free Trade Area’s (AfCFTA’s) being tariff free.
The AfCFTA will be free of tariffs on 90% of imports between African countries within five years and South African companies could be some of the main beneficiaries of the deal, leading to increased requirements for key health and safety skills as the country’s economy recovers and job opportunities improve in response, says Munnoo.
He also expects new legislation and regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to facilitate an increased level of enforcement and monitoring, and subsequent demand for OHS practitioners.
Such practitioners should not only be regarded as a legislative requirement, Munnoo stresses, as they add value and are integral to the success of South African businesses.