Accident prevention – are we slipping up?

Sadly, and despite the ongoing hype around preventing accidents in the workplace, incidents continue to rise around the world. What’s the position in South Africa? LIANA SHAW investigates.

Globally, workplace accidents number approximately 340 million per year, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Are these incidents adequately investigated? If so, what can we glean from the findings? And where does South Africa stand in terms of occupational incidents?

Domestically, accurate and up-to-date statistics are difficult to obtain. The Department of Labour is nevertheless able to confirm that the Compensation Fund received a total of 155 427 claims for the period 2016/17, with 145 922 of those being adjudicated.

“The lack of data makes it very difficult to predict and/or prevent incidents,” says Nadia Pisanti, communications manager for the National Occupational Safety Association (NOSA). However, she notes that, as reported by Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (FEM), the most likely factors contributing to fatalities are falling from height, motor vehicle incidents and being struck by an object, while accidents resulting in injury can mostly be categorised as motor vehicle accidents or coming into contact with electricity.”

It would seem that most incidents are investigated, as required by law. Where companies fail, though, says Pisanti, is in their causal analysis. Although there are a number of methodologies available to establish cause, the problem often lies with the competency of the investigators and the will to establish the real causes. In short, it comes down to risk identification, lack of control identification and inadequate or lack of control systems.

Pisanti argues that the investigation of incidents and determination of causes normally stops at the immediate and basic causes. Nine times out of ten, an unsafe act or personal factors are identified as the cause and addressed via disciplinary action. Unfortunately, unsafe conditions or job factors are left out, with safety professionals and management hesitant to admit they missed something and that their systems need to change.

“If root causes are not identified, any preventive or corrective actions that are implemented will not address the underlying causes. It is like prescribing a headache pill for cancer,” she cautions. “If the real causes are not identified and we keep on hammering the worker, even if they are partly responsible, history is bound to repeat itself.”

One of the key causes identified is employees’ “lack of compliance” with health and safety measures put in place by the employer.

“Implemented corrective or preventive actions should ensure that the incident will not recur,” says Pisanti, “but, if an employee has been retrained in the execution of a task or procedure – after a particular incident – and a similar incident occurs, the question that needs to be asked is, why? Again, if a proper investigation was carried out, it might have revealed a flaw in risk identification and inadequacy in the procedure, which, if properly addressed, would have addressed the real cause.”

Possible control measures
A few basic health and safety measures would include: proper and complete risk assessments, a properly documented risk based system and method statements, clear safe-working procedures to mitigate and control the highest risk, and training and awareness of all employees on the specific hazards and risks of deviation.

Making use of professional software systems could be one way to ensure these simple control measures are implemented. Umbani Software, for instance, offers a suite of tools that help consolidate all information in one place.

These tools in the company’s system, SHEQsys – which customers describe as user-friendly – can be customised out of the box.

“We are constantly adding new modules and investigative measures to cater for all aspects of safety and quality in the system,” says system administrator Mary-Anne Horn. “All customers are automatically provided with access to the new tools, which they can enable as required. Our customers say our tools have made it easier to collect statistics and draw trends, thus enabling them to make changes and introduce precautionary measures. Plus, the system makes it easier to produce reports and prepare for audits, as all information is available at the click of a button.”

SHEQsys was first introduced to market in 2007. An annual subscription is based on the number of active users and includes all hosting, support, updates, setup assistance and training.

Umbani Software has also just released a new product – MediSHEQ – which can be used for screening for the current Covid-19 situation, tracking first aid kits, clinic visits and the required medicals conducted on or off site. MediSHEQ, which can also link to SHEQsys, provides a full history of daily clinic visits, employees’ medical history, and employee entrance, periodical and exit medicals, in a bid to keep managers and clinic nurses up to date.

Workmen’s Compensation – a must
Despite numerous precautionary measures, accidents in the workplace are bound to happen. Employers therefore need to provide for these types of incidents by way of a Compensation Fund. Not all companies are able to self-insure, and even some large corporations can do so only up to a certain level. In South Africa, insurance rates are calculated per R100 on salary paid based on the type of industry, according to NOSA. Generally, the higher the risk, the more employers would need to fork out for insurance cover.

Experts warn that employers who choose not to invest in an insurance policy could find themselves out of pocket in the event of an occupational incident.

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