Get your NOSH(C)ON
NOSA held its 51st annual NOSHCON Conference from September 11 to 14, again at the magnificent Champagne Sports Resort in the Central Drakensberg. JACO DE KLERK attended, and came back exhausted but enlightened.
NOSA knows how to host a conference. Its particular business-and-pleasure formula is a winning one. Some might imagine that the event is an excuse for people to have a three-day party on the company’s budget, but to them I say: “Attend and be amazed!”
Just as I was amazed on the first day, when delegates – many of whom had travelled for hours on end from as far away as Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, the United States, Ghana and all SADC countries – offered up quite a huge chunk of the time allocated to afternoon tea and refreshments to give their undivided attention to the conference’s opening speaker, Dr David Klatzow. Even more astoundingly, the attendees kept “hounding” him for more … demonstrating just how thirsty the delegates were for knowledge.
The internationally recognised forensic scientist gave delegates a “behind the scenes” look at some high-profile and notorious cases. Everyone listened intently as Klatzow shared a gripping account relating to the infamous Helderberg crash – the SAA Boeing 747 commercial flight that suffered an in-flight fire and crashed into the Indian Ocean east of Mauritius on November 28, 1987, killing nearly all onboard. He had equally intriguing accounts of the deaths of slain mining magnate Brett Kebble and Stellenbosch student Inge Lots.
There truly were too many speakers and as many hot topics to cover in this report (you could write a book about it), but the live debate on the final morning leapt out as it addressed pressing matters in the occupational health and safety arena in not only Africa, but the world as well.
During this panel discussion, which was lead by Solidarity’s head of occupational health and safety, Paul Mardon, the SHEQ experts started out with behavioural factors and how these influence the establishment of a safety culture in the work environment.
Railway Safety Regulator senior researcher Mabila Mathebula got things going by stating that each person, whether an employee on the ground floor or top management, has a responsibility to create a culture of safety in their places of work. “We need to ask ourselves ‘What is it that I’m doing to ensure that safety is a reality?’,” he added. “And we have to think about what we’re doing to influence future generations because, as things stand at the moment, the organisations of the future will repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Mathebula explained that it’s up to safety professionals to influence the morale of people within organisations so as to change their behaviour and create a new culture. “We thus need to move from where we are into a leadership mode.”
John Dillon, business partner and principal consultant for Ryder Marsh Safety, added that any leadership position shouldn’t merely be about telling employees what to do. “We need to inspire change rather than tell people what to do,” he emphasised. “If an organisation isn’t inspired about change, then its employees aren’t going to change.”
The workforce needs to see that the move towards a safety culture is made in the hearts and minds of their managers and supervisors, working from the top down. “We can’t start with the workforce and beat them over the head with a stick and say ‘You must change’; you have to start at the top of the organisation,” said Dillon. However, people do need to be afforded the time and resources to make these changes.
In agreement with this, Dibuseng Makobe, NOSA Northern Region regional manager, stated that some organisations are pushing production for financial gain at the expense of employees’ health and safety – and that when employers implement training and regulations, it’s merely to comply with the criteria of tenders so they can win them. “The safety culture in South Africa isn’t recognised,” she proclaimed, “perhaps we’ll get there, but I don’t think anytime soon.”
Natalie Skeepers, divisional SHEQ manager for Aveng Grinaker LTA, pointed out that the same people attend NOSHCON each year, adding that you don’t see a lot of people from top management at the event, which forms part of the culture problem organisations have. “There is some segregation between those who are in health and safety and the other disciplines,” she said, explaining that positions such as financial reporting, or other vocations pertaining directly to the bottom line, are clearly defined as to what every employee should do and how their progress is monitored.
Contrary to this, she added, safety officers seldom experience organisations that are able to define the tasks they want these officers to focus on. “So how do they articulate that in terms of the behaviour, the leadership and the resources they allocate?” Skeepers asked. This question definitely plays its part towards the compliance culture.
“That is definitely what we see – safety people running around with files while we merely do what the law says,” emphasised Skeepers. She added that another reason for safety taking the back seat within organisations is the lack of severe consequences. “How many CEOs have been fired or jailed in the last year because of safety issues? But if you don’t comply financially, you make the headlines – and that is the problem we are facing.” She stressed that that is why something should be done to get everyone on the same page.
Gideon Munyaradzi, corporate engineer for Tongaat Hulett, agreed with Skeepers, saying that if there is a lack of accountability, it will influence behaviour negatively. He added that there are actually three different sets of cultures within an organisation that have to be merged into one, which includes employees on the ground, managers and top management, confirming what Dillon said about changing the behaviour of the entire organisation.
This gave way to a question from the audience about how one can create and manage a safety culture for an illiterate and semi-skilled workforce, as you have to be able to communicate with someone before you can change their behaviour.
Mathebula said the only way one can change the behaviour of an illiterate employee is by speaking their language without undermining their intelligence. He also said that despite the literacy level of the workforce you should ask them about the hazards they face and how they would address them. “It is the workers who know what the hazards are, because they do the work daily,” he emphasised.
Bryson Consulting director Nigel Bryson agreed with Mathebula on communicating with the workforce in their mother tongue, but added that one has to be able to convey what they must do in a way they can understand. “One of the best ways of influencing people is through storytelling,” he said. “But you have to speak and communicate to people with respect, without making them feel inferior to anybody else.”
He said organisations should be helping people rather than judging them, by creating a culture of safety and also by promoting literacy, which will give them the self-assurance to come forward and present their ideas. “Some of those ideas can be very beneficial to the company, and can be put into practice.”
However, he added that some people might not want help regarding their illiteracy. To address this, he suggested that organisations use communication channels that all employees can understand regardless of their literacy level, which has benefits for literate workers as well. “I’m literate, but I don’t like reading,” he explained. “I would, for example, prefer to watch a video because then I can actually see what is going on.”
Munyaradzi echoed Mathebula and Bryson’s comments, adding that the issues of literacy and language barriers are challenging ones that can be addressed. “We shouldn’t see this as something that stops the process of creating a safety culture and training the workforce,” he said. “There are many paths to reach the safety goal.”
He added that you should know who your target audience is before attempting to train them. As an example, Munyaradzi said that if training is going to be done in Mozambique, the trainer should be able to speak Portuguese, which will be fine for from supervisors upwards. “But if you want to train the people working on the ground, they won’t understand Portuguese,” he said. “The moment you identify your target audience, you can use the necessary training to train them – be it language- or literacy-specific.”
NOSA, as a wholly owned subsidiary of MICROmega, a holding company with controlling interests in six core businesses, can help to address this through its international reach. This, together with the various courses, certifications and supporting products NOSA provides in a kaleidoscope of languages, makes it the perfect partner to address the aspects pointed out by the various SHEQ experts.
“Our training courses have all been translated into Portuguese,” said MICROmega Holdings MD Duncan Carlisle, “in line with our growth target in Brazil and in southern African countries such as Angola and Mozambique.”
He added that NOSA has been recognised as an inspection authority by the Department of Labour for occupational hygiene services. “We are proud of our ability to offer an intense solution to our clients, and this accreditation is in line with that strategy,” Carlisle pointed out.
The company has also expanded into a number of new fields, including working at heights training, first aid, a school system and certification accreditation. The latter allows NOSA to provide ISO 9000 as well as ISO 14000 accreditation under the standards logo, which is a definite value-added feature for its clients. The school system, meanwhile, enables NOSA to offer schools a managed service wherein it actively assists with the establishment, implementation, maintenance and improvement of their health, safety and environment systems.
“We now have over 120 schools across South Africa using NOSA, and I’m sure over the next few years parents will start putting pressure on schools to adopt NOSA systems,” Carlisle predicted.
This will allow for the development of children in safe and secure environments, a plus for the industry as they are the future for our country and the industry as a whole.
NOSA’s international awards banquet saw 11 companies given NOSCAR status, which recognises them for placing as high a priority on health and safety as they do on their annual earnings – with 14 individuals given various awards for the work they are doing in ensuring a healthier, safer and more environmentally friendly workplace.
Those who achieved the highest marks on the revised Safety, Health and Environment Management Training Course (SAMTRAC) also received awards – for the first time this year. “Feedback regarding the upgrades and revision of SAMTRAC has been extremely positive,” said Carlisle. “And we will soon be launching a bridging course that will allow those who completed the old SAMTRAC to undergo a five-day course to be accredited on the new version.”
NOSHCON 2012 was acclaimed as the most successful one thus far, which I must concur with. It provided a wealth of knowledge and insight to all who attended and awarded those who take the industry and its values to heart.
The fatigue started to creep over me while the line up of entertainment provided delegates with some after-hours relaxation, wowing the crowd and getting them to keep the candle burning. As this happened, I thought about the amazing three days that catered for an industry that affects so many people today and for the rest of their lives.
I’m looking forward to next year’s NOSHCON, which will take place from September 10 to 13 at the picturesque resort once more.