How a Modest Investment in Occupational Hygiene can Improve Productivity and Save Money
Occupational hygiene assessments can limit accidents and illness at work, saving employers millions in industrial compensation and lost production annually. The history of paid labour is filled with examples of how ignorance and, in some cases, indifference has led to widespread injuries, illness and deaths among the world’s workers. Because of their need to feed, clothe and house their families, workers accepted the dangers along with their wages. Fortunately, a better understanding of the causes of their misfortune has since led governments in most countries to introduce legislation regarding health and safety in the workplace.
Occupational Hygiene and South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety Act
In 1993, South Africa’s government followed the example of most developed nations with the publication of recommendations for employers to eliminate or manage potential hazards that could put workers at risk of injury or illness. In effect, the Act delegated the responsibility for assuring employee safety to the employer and made some provisions to assist them. The most notable of these was the introduction of a training course for a new profession – the occupational hygiene specialist. In the interim, the original 1993 Act has received several additions and amendments. It now identifies four main categories of hazards that employers need to address.
- Physical Hazards:
Falls and accidents involving machinery are the most frequent causes of workplace injuries. They are invariably due to physical hazards and are avoidable with a little more attention to employee safety. During a workplace assessment, an occupational hygiene specialist will look for missing safety guards on machines and ladders without handrails, slippery floors and loose rubble. Other concerns include poor insulation on electrical wiring, high ambient noise levels, excessive vibration and temperature extremes.
The list of potentially harmful chemicals is lengthy. It ranges from the mundane, like disinfectants, bleach, paint and glue, to the more exotic, such as mercury, cadmium and nitrogen oxides. Some are airborne and might be inhaled, while others can cause damage through skin contact. Specialised sampling and analytical techniques are frequently necessary to detect chemical hazards.
Outside of hospitals and laboratories, Legionella in the water supply or air conditioning is a common concern. The organism causes a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. Employees are sometimes carriers of bacteria like staphylococci, streptococci or enteric pathogens. These could cause significant problems in a crowded workplace if not detected and managed.
Poor lifting, pushing or pulling techniques, ill-adjusted seating and workbenches have all been identified as the cause of debilitating musculoskeletal disorders and increased levels of absenteeism. These include lower back pain, repetitive strain injuries and postural problems. An industrial hygiene assessment will reveal ergonomic hazards and provide recommendations for overcoming them.
Following Detection, Occupational Hygiene Provides Evaluation and Hazard Management
Having spotted a potential problem, the investigator will then assess the risk it might present to employees and recommend countermeasures where it appears significant. If, for example, official studies show atmospheric levels of a potential toxin are within tolerable limits, no remedial action will be required, although ongoing monitoring would be advisable.
IOH Solutions offers a comprehensive range of occupational hygiene services. Why risk costly production losses, excessive sickness payments or industrial compensation? For peace of mind, enquire about our services today.
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