Sanjay Munnoo looks at ways that Covid-19 could actually boost health and safety participation, unpacks key aspects of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Amendment Bill, and highlights the role of Saiosh.
One result of the pandemic is that human life has become more valued than ever. Employers should be commended for implementing measures at the workplace to help prevent the spread of the virus.
In my opinion, there will be a lasting effect of the pandemic on health and safety (H&S) in the workplace. I believe that H&S awareness – and participation – by employees will improve, thus leading to a reduction of workplace accidents. It will be interesting to compare statistics once the economy returns to normality.
We must not forget, however, that the lockdown has also wreaked havoc on mental health: a recent study indicates that the number of suicides has increased. While many people have become accustomed to working from home or on roster systems, we are social creatures and I believe that some will eventually want to return to the workplace. Fortunately, we can anticipate that the vaccine roll-out will be efficient, especially with private sector participation.
We must guard against the various conspiracy theories about the vaccine. People have the right to decline to take the vaccine, but, as H&S practitioners, we should inform our constituents about the facts and refer employees to the relevant government or medical aid websites.
Growth in Saiosh membership has exceeded expectations, with more than 200 new members registering in April, and the demand for H&S practitioners has also been increasing, despite a strained economy. Employers understand that a reduction of costs as a result of fewer workplace incidents is correlated with improved profitability.
We continue to grapple with ongoing amendments to H&S legislation and regulation, while having to comply with Covid-19 regulations. Saiosh noted that the OHS Amendment Bill was published on May 14 without calls for public comment. The Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) was immediately contacted, however.
A Saiosh Technical Committee has been established with OHS legal experts to compile comments for submission to DEL by July 31. Saiosh also arranged for the chief inspector, Tibor Szana, to host a webinar on May 28 titled: “Unpacking the OHS Amendment Bill”. It was recorded and the link is accessible via www.saiosh.co.za.
The OHS Amendment Bill has serious implications for employers prosecuted and convicted, who will be liable to a fine of R5 million or five years’ imprisonment. There were also changes to the first aid regulations, while ergonomic regulations will be fully implemented on July 1.
It is concerning that employers are not only facing a drastic reduction in revenue due to the pandemic, coupled with additional Covid-19 compliance requirements and costs. Understanding the amendments is not a once-off process and it will take time for employers to comply.
Companies that can afford to employ H&S practitioners are in a better position to comply. By contrast, it’s more difficult for smaller contractors to do so: they often work in rural areas that generally lack access to H&S workshops or webinars.
Another complication is the language barrier, since all legislation is written in English. This makes it challenging for smaller contractors to understand and comply with existing or amended legislation.
DEL runs roadshows, but in rural areas the pandemic has limited the number of face-to-face workshops. I think professional bodies, including Saiosh, can partner with DEL to focus on educating smaller contractors on H&S legislation.
Saiosh staff who were working from home started to return to the office during the 2nd quarter of this year. The membership renewal procedure has been consistently efficient, and staff are readily available to assist.
The Saiosh Council thanks members who are paying their membership fees. Relevant to employers and employees: “Safety isn’t expensive, it’s priceless.”