Zero concern, maximum harm

Zero concern, maximum harm

“Zero harm”. You read about the concept in just about every issue of SHEQ MANAGEMENT. Can the concept be applied to South Africa’s current leadership conundrum?

A little internet reading (dangerous, I know…) on the topic of zero harm reveals that this concept is rather hotly debated, with opponents and proponents equally stating the merits of their respective cases.

While some might question the validity of the terminology; the binary nature of the concept; the psychology of measuring “zero harm” as opposed to full or 100-percent safety; and whether the idea detracts from other risk-mitigating concepts, I think that the terminology – at least – could be applied in a greater scenario than the shop floor…Now, I’m no health and safety practitioner – but I see a lesson somewhere in there that those in the Union Buildings could learn.

My thinking comes from a recent press release issued by the United Association of South Africa (UASA) – which is one of South Africa’s oldest trade unions and represents more than 73 000 workers across all industries – following the Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba’s maiden mid-term budget policy statement.

UASA is concerned that 105 000 jobs have been shed in the manufacturing, construction and agricultural sectors and that the unemployment rate in South Africa has remained at 27,7 percent for the third successive quarter. It points out that the South African economy could be at a tipping point.

Gigaba’s speech was not inspiring: a tax shortfall of R50,8 billion; economic growth forecast reviewed down to 0,7 percent; gross debt set to rise to 61 percent by 2022; and debt-service costs set to reach 15 percent by 2020/22.

“If an individual were to continually increase their expenditure beyond their income, they would be forced to borrow more, even to the point of forcing them into eventual bankruptcy and causing pain to the entire family. It seems the South African government is very close to this point,” UASA points out.

Economists are predicting that we are in for another downgrade (some have commented that this could be a good thing) and that interest rates – on both government and personal debt – will rise. So, too, will taxes – meaning that each month honest South Africans will have less to spend on keeping food on the table. We must also not forget that as more jobs are lost, due to decreased spending, less tax will be gathered.

It doesn’t take a degree in economics to see that huge harm is being done to the country and its citizens, and that there is no clear plan of mitigation. South Africa’s “injury rate” could be about to go off the charts. Gigaba – who, in theory, is our economy’s own health and safety manager – should be aghast…

The CEO, though, has other ideas; as UASA states: “The puppet master appears to have become bigger than his own party.”

South Africa’s citizens, including it’s “workers on the shop floor”, can only hope that the harm is reduced dramatically in 2018. In a perfect world, the harm would be reduced to zero … it’s a matter of constitutional right. 

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