The changing face of OHS

Moves by the Department of Employment and Labour to employ an additional 500 occupational health and safety (OHS) inspectors is likely to have far-reaching implications for the profession in South Africa   

The Department of Employment and Labour is on the verge of engaging 500 OHS inspectors in a move that will have significant impact in the workplace, according to the department’s chief inspector, Tibor Szana.

Speaking last month at the opening of a department-sponsored occupational health and safety (OHS) conference at Emperor’s Palace, Ekurhuleni, Szana said the change was aimed at broadening the focus of inspection services by including small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), as well as the informal sector, in its scope.

“Over the next ten years, health and hygiene will never be the same. We are clear about what we are about to do. When we look back, this move will mark a major turning point in OHS in South Africa. Further, we will be leveraging the use of technologies to fulfil our objectives,” he said.

According to some observers at the conference, the move to employ additional inspectors has its roots not only in better enforcement of South Africa’s OHS regulations, but also in providing encouragement to OHS students or recent graduates looking for work.

“While the department is making clear that it intends to improve law enforcement in OHS by bringing about an increased level of monitoring, the appointments will also open up new opportunities for professionals,” said a delegate, adding that strictly enforced OHS obligations could result in the creation of a wealth of jobs across the board.

“To avoid penalties that will come with closer scrutiny, employers in all sectors of the economy are going to need people who can ensure that health and safety obligations are properly fulfilled. In the coming years, we may well see a rise in demand for occupations such as safety officers, health and safety managers, environmental protection officers and others.”

Szana maintained that the department was implementing change in order to prepare for the challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “We are on the cusp of major transformation across all South African industries – and OHS is no exception,” he said, adding that regulations that govern health and safety in the workplace will be on no value if high accident rates persist.

The department’s inspector-general, Aggy Moiloa, said decent workplace conditions could not be achieved unless proper provision was made to construct a sound, safe and healthy environment. “Workers have a right to conditions that are not harmful to their health or safety. If that factor is compromised, productivity levels suffer,” she said.

Moiloa added that employers should not see safety as a “by the way” initiative – and neither should they be lured in applying short cuts in their health and safety programmes. “In my view, every occupational accident is preventable,” she said. “That is the position South Africans must strive to achieve. Changes that are being implemented will go a long way towards realising this objective.”

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