Working together for greater worker health and well-being

Working together for greater worker health and well-being

Compared to other countries, a culture of health and safety is relatively new in South Africa, but we’re not at all a bunch of unsafe ruffians. However, there is always room for improvement, especially where peoples’ lives are concerned.

The South African Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that employers protect their employees from workplace hazards that could cause injury … And, let’s call a spade a spade, apart from a few “back alley” organisations South African companies have taken this to heart.

However, hazards do exist in every workplace, therefore, ongoing strategies to protect workers are essential. Louise Lindeque, responsible care manager for the Chemical and Allied Industries’ Association (CAIA), explains: “The priority of employers should be the elimination and proactive control of risks at their source by ensuring that effective and relevant personal protective equipment (PPE) programmes are implemented within their company.”

According to the CAIA a company’s PPE programme should include a workplace survey to identify the particular hazards and risks, select the appropriate controls and PPE, ensure the correct fitting of PPE and enhance training. The programme should also provide for management support as well as maintenance and auditing. “It must address the hazards that are present and appropriate monitoring must take place to ensure its ongoing suitability and effectiveness,” Lindeque points out.

To help with this, the Association recommends that companies’ health and safety representatives and committees are involved with the monitoring of the PPE programme during their workplace inspections.

But organisations shouldn’t only provide the PPE and give employees a slap on the wrist if it isn’t used. “Employers are responsible for providing PPE free of charge,” explains Lindeque. “But it is also important to ensure that employees are trained in the use and care of the PPE, including checking, maintenance and replacement when it becomes worn or damaged, or when it has expired.”

She adds that there are ways to motivate employees to make use of their PPE: “Employees should be involved in workplace trials so that they can evaluate the fit and comfort themselves. By doing this it is more likely that worker acceptability will be gained.”

And employers must remember to always set a good example by showing that they aren’t above the rules. “Exceptions must never be allowed and disciplinary measures should be in place to ensure PPE is used at all times,” explains Lindeque.

But, she adds that a hazard can’t be eliminated by PPE alone as it only reduces the risk of injury. So it is vitally important to create a culture of safety to ensure the health and well-being of all employees.

Karin Ovari, Intertek Consulting & Training regional manager for sub-Saharan Africa – a new competitor in the South African market – explains that there is always room for improvement: “Establishing a culture takes into account aspects such as leadership, team skills, people and vision. For example, a company may have great people and processes, however, if the vision isn’t clear, it will impact on delivery.”

So, the health and safety culture, programmes and processes have to be tackled as a whole to ensure that employees and employers are all doing what they can to cultivate a healthier workforce and a safer workplace.

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