Low level of OSH compliance remains a concern
There are many industries that have maintained an impeccable record in terms of compliance with Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation. The formal mining sector is a good example of an industry that continues to take a proactive approach to ensuring healthy and safe workplaces. These efforts are complemented by the remarkable work undertaken by major civil engineering and construction contractors to mitigate injuries and fatalities on their job sites and the world-class safety, health, environment and quality standards adopted by highly regulated industries.
However, at the same time, many sectors of the economy are still not compliant, exposing themselves to potential liabilities and risks to their workers. “This is despite the existence of more than 200 pieces of OSH legislation that are around 20 years old. Unfortunately, many employers misinterpret the legislation, leading to poor risk assessments and therefore inadequate controls,” says Louise Woodburn, managing director of risk solutions at KBC Health & Safety. The company has earned a solid reputation for the quality of its risk assessments and compliance training. This includes pioneering use of digital technologies, such as augmented reality, virtual sessions, WhatsApp and QR codes. In some cases, these methods have also proven to be a more cost-effective alternative to physical risk assessments and compliance training. The company deployed these technologies long before the lockdowns were put in place to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The company has also recently expanded its offering to include risk solutions for small businesses that cannot afford to employ permanent, seasoned health and safety officers to help inform their OHS protocol.
A good example is the many fast food franchises that need advice on how to reduce their liability exposure and protect their human resources. KBC Health & Safety provides these services to small, medium and micro-enterprises on an ad hoc basis. Their demand is undeniably strong, as evidenced by the steady growth of the Risk Solutions division since its launch two years ago. Another advantage of this service is that it provides access to OHS officers specialized in particular industries. They are therefore able to provide a wealth of industry-specific knowledge and expertise to help mitigate risk.
However, there are still many small businesses that are hesitant to invest in OSH compliance. They approach the Woodburn team to help them implement a strong OHS strategy after an incident because they have not been proactive in mitigating health and safety risks in their workplace. Without adequate controls in place, it is only a matter of time before an incident occurs in the workplace, she warns.
Woodburn refers to the recent increase in injuries and fatalities in the construction industry, which she attributes to the growing number of small contractors entering the industry. Among other incidents, workers fall from heights and inhale harmful chemicals on construction sites. This is because these construction companies have not put in place the proper controls to prevent injuries and fatalities. She is also concerned about the compliance status of many South African factories where risk mitigation is also mostly reactive instead of proactive. In many cases, these companies avoid incidents “by the skin of their teeth”, and it is only a matter of time before the lack of adequate controls catches up with them. At that point, it’s too late.
The situation is exacerbated by a lack of adequate enforcement by the authorities, due to limited resources which are mainly deployed on mining sites and large construction sites where the level of health and safety risk is perceived to be higher. . “The weakest link remains the implementation of the legislation. This undermines the country’s comprehensive set of OSH legislation, considered one of the best in the world. Many businesses are therefore able to get away with non-compliance for a period of time, before an incident occurs that could result in injury or even death, while exposing their business to serious liability.” , says Woodburn.
Worryingly, the health aspect of OSH is often neglected by many companies. This takes into account that the effects of unhealthy workplaces and practices, such as hearing loss, cancers, asthma and mental illnesses, are usually only identified over a longer period than injuries and deaths. . People may have changed jobs when they realize that their health has suffered because of their previous work experience. “It’s a big challenge. The mining industry has been trying for many years to establish an up-to-date database of health-related impacts. However, maintaining such a database requires deeper collaboration between different companies and across various industries,” she concludes.
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