Department of Labour lays down new rules

Department of Labour lays down new rules

New regulations relating to ergonomics are being legislated. They’re definitely good news for employees. Can the same be said for employers?

The Department of Labour (DoL) recently proposed new ergonomic regulations – as improvements in ergonomics throughout the workplace result in more productive workers and a better standard of work.

Milly Ruiters, director of the occupational health and hygiene department at the DoL, explains that a factor contributing greatly to the productivity is whether the company has endeavoured to match the work environment to the workers, as opposed to matching the workers to the work environment.

The Department refers to legislation regarding this matter, citing the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, which regulates the labour market through a set of policies and programmes.

These policies are aimed at enhancing occupational health and safety awareness to improve compliance in the workplace and ensure safe, healthy workers and working environments. They also aim to improve economic efficiency and productivity, create employment and establish sound labour relations.

“In addition, they aim to: reduce inequality and discrimination in the workplace, alleviate poverty in employment, enhance occupational health and safety awareness, improve compliance in the workplace, and nurture the culture of acceptance that workers’ rights are human rights,” explains Ruiters.

A lack of ergonomic compliance within the work environment is characterised by a large number of work-related injuries and diseases, such as musculoskeletal disorders. Risk factors vary from design, safety of machinery and physical environment, to employees’ physical and mental workload. This creates a need to legislate ergonomic risk factors.

“The current legislation, as stated in sections 8, 14 and 16 of the OHS Act, is very important. Ergonomic risk factors need to be identified with others as per section 8. Control measures must then be identified for these ergonomic risk factors. The DoL created an ergonomics risk process flowchart, detailing the steps required to correctly identify the factors,” says Ruiters.

In accordance with section 14, employees must obey OHS rules and report unsafe situations. Ruiters explains: “There are already regulations governing office spaces, such as the 2004 Facilities Regulations and the 2014 Construction Regulations. In addition, the subject of ergonomics is addressed in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) – yet there has been no specific regulation governing ergonomics.”

According to Ruiters the new regulations will set things out more clearly and give businesses a timeframe in which they must comply.

In complying with the new regulations, businesses must include ergonomics in their health and safety manuals, and have a team dedicated to assessing ergonomic risk factors, which must be considered during the procurement of equipment.

Businesses are also duty bound to provide training and educational material for their workforce. They must ensure medical management and medical surveillance is up to scratch, and should refer staff members who experience problems to an occupational practitioner for work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

There are several meaningful benefits for a business that undertakes a dedicated ergonomics system. By modifying the workplace and creating an accommodating environment, there will be fewer illnesses and injuries, thereby effectively increasing the productivity of the workforce.

In addition, when employees claim workmen’s compensation, their levies are increased. However, if they don’t claim for a certain period they will receive a cash “bonus” or payment of sorts. Compliance to ergonomic regulations should, therefore, be seen as a vital and cost-efficient process.

Ruiters notes that the development of ergonomic regulations will be a programmed approach, so that they are straightforward and easy to implement. The regulations will encompass physical and cognitive ergonomics suitable for the identified needs of individual companies.

She explains that a technical committee was formally established in 2013. Regulations were developed in the 2013/14 period, and the draft regulations were published in March 2015. Permission was finally given for the DoL to put the regulations out for public comment at the end of September 2016.

“It received approval to create industry-specific guidelines, which provided a way forward for legal services to do last checks, get ministerial approval, and allow three months for public comment. A workshop was held at the national OHS conference in November 2016, which included the incorporation of public comment,” Ruiters explains.

In preparation for implementation, 15 OHS officials have completed a six-module course on ergonomics at Rhodes University (NQF level 7). On completion of the course, the officials submitted a portfolio of evidence to the Ergonomics Society of South Africa to register as Certified Ergonomics Associates and work at a professional level.

A second group of 15 inspectors completed training in January. Rhodes is currently the only university that offers a course in ergonomics, which will be presented to industry during 2017.

However, there are concerns from organised business that there will now be a burden placed on them to train people.

“Businesses will have a period in which to adhere to the regulations, and a duty to train and provide for their staff. It has been recommended that the workshops and roadshows should be provided for free. This is, however, yet to be confirmed,” Ruiters says.

The DoL is hoping that all businesses will comply by March 2018.

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