Never stop evolving
The proposed ergonomic regulations, which require the full attention of management, show how the occupational health and safety (OHS) profession is constantly evolving
Some time back I did a presentation to a large group of National Diploma in Safety Management students. I asked them how they felt about the end of their third year of study. A fair number expressed the view that it “was all over now”. By this they meant no more studying!
I told them that, unfortunately, their studies were just starting and would continue for the rest of their careers.
Think back to the days when Heinrich’s Domino Theory was the greatest “light in the sky”. It was current and it was relevant! Then along came Frank Bird Jnr with a new triangle and we started all over again.
Those who have been around for some time will recall the Factories, Machinery and Building Work Act, which morphed into the Machinery and Occupational Safety Act. This was later reborn as the Occupational Health and Safety Act. We now work with this Act (and the Amendments). Each change was subtle, or a fine-tuning, or introduced some new aspect.
As the world around us changes, so, too, we need to adapt. Back in 1973, the Noise Reduction Regulations were introduced. Today, we accept the full implications of that Regulation without any hesitation.
The introduction of the Asbestos Regulations was recognised as a wise and necessary improvement. The Construction Regulations have also had their share of tweaking and fine tuning.
Now, instead of a fine-tuning, the Department of Labour has published a new topic. By the time you read this article, the period for comment will have passed.
I’m talking about the proposed Ergonomics Regulations. The Regulations cover (among other topics): What is ergonomics? What does it entail? What does management have to do about this subject? Who is allowed to inspect and report on the subject of ergonomics?
This is a huge change requiring a serious inspection by all management levels. This is not intended to be a lecture on ergonomics. There are practitioners more qualified and experienced than I am to discuss the ins and outs of the subject. It is just an example of how our OHS working environment is continually changing around us.
It could be new legislation, new techniques, or new approaches to the ongoing efforts of ensuring our workplaces and employees are free from harm.
I’m going be to bold and mention a few simple examples of how I think we will be involved in the new regulations. Remember the draft regulations were released for comment. The purpose was to give everyone an opportunity to see what is intended and how it is to be implemented.
Some might say that ergonomics is just “common sense”. The same could be said for the entire occupational health and safety profession, but we realise there is more to the subject and the work undertaken by our profession. So, ergonomics has its own levels of expertise.
Take lifting a heavy weight as an example. As practitioners, we know how the worker should lift the weight (back straight, grasp firmly and then lift using the leg muscles and not the back muscles).
The qualified ergonomist (now to be required by law), while examining the “man-machine interface”, would look a lot further into the weight of the load, and whether it could be moved more safely, easily or productively.
Remember that every change (ergonomics, for example) is just another tool in the tool box for OHS practitioners and management.
Check out our report on the new egonomics regulation on page 42 – ed.