Oppenheimer’s other legacy
Twelve years of accident-free driving – then it’s a gold bar for you! Capturing the essence of a bustling Johannesburg in the 1940s, this initiative was one of many to come from the Safety First Association, which turns 80 this year.
It was 1932, and Johannesburg’s growth had been phenomenal. Parallel to its mining activities was a burgeoning industrial sector. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer saw the need for more stringent safety regulations; more and more workers were being injured or killed. Together with the mayor of Johannesburg, he motivated for an association that would disseminate information on safety. The Safety First Association (SFA) was born.
It set about teaching people the principles of safety, not just at work, but also at home and in traffic. This was achieved primarily through its own magazine – initially known as Safety First, then Industrial Safety and now National Safety. It has been published regularly since the first issue.
The SFA’s early focus was on road safety. Traffic was becoming a major problem in Johannesburg. Cars were suddenly everywhere. Whereas people had been able to stroll across streets, they suddenly had to be aware that a car could be approaching. Drivers had to become more aware too. Things we take for granted today were foreign back then. The SFA introduced a safe driving scheme where participants were awarded certificates, diplomas, and yes, even gold! In the 1940s, it awarded a gold bar for 12 years of accident-free driving. In the 1950s, it produced a road safety film titled “Common sense behind the wheel”. In the 1960s, its car seatbelt campaign was gaining momentum. The association worked actively to help reduce road carnage.
During World War II, many workers went off to war and women filled in for them. The magazine advised that: “Supervisors should be sympathetic and understanding regarding the limitations of skill and knowledge of the new industrial workers, the women.” When the war ended, the magazine reported on how to deal with the disabled soldier returning to work.
When television was introduced in South Africa in 1975, the magazine devoted an entire issue to it. The Star newspaper even quoted from that issue, which discussed the dangers of TV, such as lightning, ventilation and fire hazards. In the 1970s, when fashion dictated that women wear high heels, the magazine warned that “platform shoes may drive you to death.” Crime was also given attention – bank robberies were big news in the 1970s.
There was a poster competition for school children, and the popular Cartoon Safety Booklets introduced by secretary Barbara Campbell in the 1980s. Campbell believed that although safety is a serious matter, learning about it should be fun. Hundreds of thousands of these booklets covering a range of subjects have been sold. Campbell also expanded the range of posters. The SFA currently publishes about 20 sets on all safety matters. The Directory of Safety Products and Services launched in 1995 is an extremely popular service to the industry.
From conferences and exhibitions to safety week, the SFA is constantly busy. Over the years, it has forged relationships with related professional associations – such as the Institute of Safety Management, the Southern African Institute for Occupational Hygiene and the Southern African Protective Equipment Marketing Association – which have nominated National Safety magazine as their official voice.
In the last decade, SFA has partnered with these associations to form NOSHEBO, which runs a conference and other activities, providing important networking opportunities for the industry.
* SHEQ Management congratulates the SFA team on reaching this milestone. We wish you every continued success!