The Nature and Benefits of an Occupational Health Risk Assessment
For most of the history of paid work, employers have done their best to pay their workers as little as possible and have shown little or no concern for the conditions in which they were required to work. Debilitating disease, accidents, and death were commonplace, especially in jobs, such as mining and construction. In fairness, the Greeks and Romans did recognize certain problems and attempted to address them. However, it was only with the introduction of the occupational health risk assessment during the late 20th century that the South African government started paying serious attention to the working conditions of all the nation’s employees.
Before the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993, concerns regarding the impact of working conditions on employee’s health were confined to the mining industry. They governed the provision of treatment for respiratory diseases, such as pneumoconiosis and compensation for those disabled by them. With the advent of more widespread concerns came the need to train specialists to perform occupational health risk assessments. The purpose of these studies would be to identify any possible hazards in any given workplace that might threaten the safety or health of workers or anyone else who might be exposed to them.
Workplace hazards fall into four main categories. They may be either physical, chemical, biological, or ergonomic. More recently, there have been growing concerns about employees’ mental welfare, and it is quite possible that, in the future, psychological studies could become an optional addition to the current content of an occupational health risk assessment.
As things now stand, the process consists of five distinct steps, and the first of these is to identify any hazards that may exist in a company’s working environment. Step two will be to determine who is at risk of being harmed and what form that harm may take. Based on the previous two steps, it is then possible to assess the level of risk. Where this is significant, the assessors can propose suitable remedial interventions and arrange for them to be implemented. Steps four and five of the occupational health risk assessment will consist of documenting and reviewing the findings and actions arising from the study.
During the initial stage of the investigation, the assessors will be on the lookout for those hazards most commonly associated with the type of company under assessment. Typically, those might include ladders without handrails or machinery without safety guards. The team might also collect water and air samples to check for biological and chemical agents or measure ambient noise levels that might endanger worker’s hearing.
An occupational health risk assessment can be of benefit to both employees and employers. A healthy workforce is a productive one. Its members are likely to spend more time on the job and fewer days on paid sick leave. Furthermore, employers will be far less likely to find themselves facing potentially crippling claims for industrial compensation.
Act 85 of 1993 places the onus on employers to adopt adequate measures to preserve the health and safety of their workers. To achieve this, they must be confident that all possible hazards have been identified and dealt with effectively. An occupational health risk assessment by IOH Solutions will ensure that confidence.