Failure to Arrange a Health Risk Assessment Could Prove Costly
Most of the more established companies in South Africa are members of a group medical aid scheme and contribute to their employees’ monthly premium payments. However, while these schemes provide support with private medical expenses, they don’t guarantee health. Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) reports that absenteeism costs our national economy between R12 and R16 billion every year. However, if every company conducted a health risk assessment, much of this vast annual loss could be avoided.
The Covid-19 pandemic strained the nation’s medical facilities and forced many companies into bankruptcy following staff shortages and supply chain problems. Even before this outbreak, seasonal influenza regularly resulted in short-term staffing disruptions. While employers have no control over such events, they have a legal responsibility to safeguard the health and safety of their employees whilst at work. The best way to fulfil that obligation is to start by arranging a health risk assessment.
The Three Stages of a Health Risk Assessment
This phrase can sometimes lead to confusion. While it is a sound practice to request that prospective employees undergo a medical examination as part of the selection process to determine if the job may put their health at risk, the aim of this exercise is somewhat different. Instead, it is intended to protect employees from any inherent dangers in their working environment that might hold the threat of an injury or illness. The process consists of three stages.
Identify Potential Hazards
The first stage of the health risk assessment process should be to thoroughly examine the working environment, keeping an eye open for any hazards that might threaten employee safety. These fall into three main categories – physical, chemical, and biological. Many physical dangers will be readily apparent, even to the untrained eye. Typical examples are exposed electrical wiring, slippery surfaces, and machinery without safety guards.
However, ambient noise levels, vibration, and temperature extremes require monitoring with specialised instruments to confirm them as potentially hazardous. Dust, chemicals, and bacteria in the air and on surfaces also need specialised sampling techniques and laboratory testing for health risk assessment purposes.
Assess Threat Levels
Not all workplace hazards pose a threat to personnel. For example, there are permitted levels for many hazardous substances present in the air, hence the regulations governing vehicle exhaust gases. However, where the permissible levels of airborne toxins are exceeded, it will be vital to identify all the workers who are likely to be exposed to the risk.
While we take for granted that factories are noisy, it’s worth noting that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) generates the majority of claims for industrial compensation. Where ambient noise levels are high, the health risk assessment must identify anyone at risk of NIHL.
Read more about The Nature and Benefits of an Occupational Health Risk Assessment here.
Mitigate Confirmed Threats
While recognising and assessing problems and identifying those in danger are crucial elements of maintaining health and safety at work, initiating the necessary steps to eliminate or manage any conformed risks is the ultimate objective. The latter should combine effective countermeasures for each valid threat identified during the workplace survey with appropriate education for management and staff covering the importance of these measures. IOH Solutions is licensed to perform professional health risk assessments in Gauteng and the Eastern and Western Cape. Learn more about how our services could reduce absenteeism, sick pay, and production losses in your company, and contact us today.