The Role of Occupational Hygiene in Improving Workplace Health and Safety
Businesses in South Africa lose billions of Rands annually due to work-related injuries and illnesses arising from inadequate occupational hygiene measures. The trend is not confined to high-risk occupations like mining and construction. It also extends to the average factory floor and may even affect those engaged in more passive tasks, such as office work. In 1993, the South African government published an act designed to address this issue by ensuring companies adopt adequate health and safety measures to protect their employees effectively. Let’s examine some of the more common issues the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 was intended to address.
Typical Problems Arising due to Lack of Adequate Occupational Hygiene Measures
Injuries resulting from accidents at work are all too common, but they also draw attention to the potential hazards responsible for them, creating the opportunity to manage them. The following are among the more obvious examples.
- Falls: Slippery floors frequently result in falls where workers could sustain sprains or fractures. Ladders without handrails are also a common source of falls.
- Traumatic Injuries: Working with certain types of machinery requires focus. A brief lapse of attention could see an operator lose a finger or a hand. Poor training and the absence of guardrails are often responsible for these accidents.
However, some hazards may be less noticeable, but their effects can be equally debilitating.
- Hearing Loss: Exposure to an ambient noise level greater than 85 decibels throughout an eight-hour shift is sufficient to cause irreversible hearing loss. Furthermore, the effect is cumulative. Noise-induced hearing loss is now the most common form of deafness and the most frequent source of industrial compensation claims. Prevention of NIHL plays a significant role in occupational hygiene.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The constant vibration from machine tools such as a pneumatic drill can cause pressure on nerves in the wrist, leading to painful hands and fingers, tingling and numbness.
- Other Musculoskeletal Disorders: Some tasks require extreme exertion and, unless handled correctly, can lead to conditions such as tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, lower back problems and trigger finger. These are all debilitating disorders that cause pain and can limit mobility. Poor seating and workbenches that are too high or too low can have a similar effect.
- Heavy Metal Poisoning: Lead, mercury and cadmium are the most frequent offenders, but gaseous chemicals like ammonia, chlorine and volatile organic solvents can also be harmful when inhaled, as can fibrous materials. The dangers of asbestos and the associated risk of malignant tumours are well-known. In addition, the solvents may also pose a fire risk.
- Bacterial Infections: One of the more common tasks of the occupational hygiene specialist is to test water supplies for the presence of Legionella, a bacterium responsible for a severe and potentially fatal form of pneumonia. However, E Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococci and Streptococci are threats that may also need to be eliminated, especially in a food processing environment.
The Role of Occupational Hygiene
Technical specialists are trained to identify and evaluate the risks posed by these workplace hazards and to offer advice on how employers can manage them. The service can reduce production losses, prevent compensation claims and boost employee satisfaction and loyalty. Companies in Gauteng and the Eastern and Western Cape can contact IOH Solutions to arrange a professional evaluation of their working environment.
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