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Assessing Occupational Health and Hygiene Risks to South Africa’s Workers

A risk assessment is a procedure that one tends to associate with the financial security of a business and is often undertaken when evaluating the viability of a new project, its expansion plans, or a merger. In fact, it is a practice that has applications in many aspects of a company’s operations. Among the most important of these are the environmental studies performed to identify any potential risks to employees and to determine how these could be contained with the introduction of appropriate occupational health and hygiene measures in the workplace.

In the past, many of these threats were not yet understood, and even where a potential risk was identified, without the backing of government legislation, many employers simply chose to ignore it. Over the course of the last two decades, however, there has been a torrent of legislation concerning the protection of workers exposed to hazardous substances such as lead and asbestos, or to levels of noise high enough to cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). These, coupled with the defining OHS act of 1993 were responsible for the formation of a new medical speciality as well as a long overdue recognition by employers that workers are not merely an expenditure on their balance sheets but human capital and, as such, worthy of investment. In a nutshell, a healthy worker is a productive worker, while sick leave and compensation are avoidable expenses.

In dealing with the needs of occupational health and hygiene, a risk assessment is the starting point. This type of detective work can only be undertaken effectively by a specialist with the necessary knowledge and experience to know just what to look for, where to search, and how to recognise and evaluate any potential hazards that they may subsequently find.

The state employs inspectors whose job it is to visit factory premises periodically in order to evaluate and report on the extent to which a company is managing any potential workplace risks to its employees. However, the initial tasks of recognising those risks and prescribing or, if required to, implementing the appropriate counter-measures, are invariably best conducted by an independent, third-party service provider specialising in the field of occupational health and hygiene.

In essence, these services provide a means to alert employers of anything that might present a hazard to their employees and whether the current precautions are adequate or additional measures may be necessary. To ensure the safety of staff and others whilst on their premises, employers are legally obliged to provide adequate control measures for their protection and subject to legal action if their failure to do so should result in illness or injury. It is generally accepted that to ensure continuing compliance with the legislation, a review of the risks and preventative measures should be conducted at least biannually.

Retained by some of South Africa’s largest companies, IOH Solutions is an approved, specialist inspection authority with extensive experience of all aspects of occupational health and hygiene and accredited both by SANAS and the Department of Labour. The company offers an extensive range of OH services including health risk assessments and ergonomic studies, as well as specialised environmental services such as noise surveys, water sampling, and dust fallout measurements, to cite just a few.