While, at one time, few employers showed much concern for the welfare of their workers and even fewer were likely to accept responsibility for injuries or disease caused by their working conditions, that has since changed. Most countries, including South Africa, have since introduced legislation regarding acceptable working conditions and employers’ liability to implement them. Trained specialists are available to conduct a comprehensive health and safety risk assessment that helps companies to comply. It is also common practice for a company to appoint and train one or two staff members to help implement any recommendations arising from an inspection.
Health and Safety Professionals – Training and Accreditation
When drawing up the content of South Africa’s occupational health and safety act, the government also provided for the training and accreditation of doctors, nurses and technical personnel who now work in this specialised field. The doctors and nurses are responsible for examining, diagnosing and treating staff members with work-related injuries or illnesses while the technical specialists focus on the health and safety risk assessment process. The latter must be familiar with all the hazards to which workers are commonly exposed, as well as where and how to search for them.
Health and Safety Risk Assessment
The majority of threats to workers tend to fall into one of three main categories. They may be either physical, chemical or biological. More recently, a fourth category has begun to attract more concern. It addresses ergonomics or methods to ensure that workers are not only safe but also comfortable while performing their jobs. That said, the primary focus of a health and safety risk assessment will generally be to investigate, identify, evaluate and, ultimately, to offer sound advice on how to manage any identified, physical, chemical and biological hazards.
Possible physical hazards include machinery with guardrails and exposed or faulty electrical wiring. It could also cover employees working at height with a safety tether and the danger to those below from dropped tools. It often needs a keen eye to spot such problems, but physical hazards are usually the easiest to eliminate. By contrast, when conducting a health and safety risk assessment, locating chemical and biological threats can be somewhat more demanding, as is dealing with them effectively.
On the chemical front, workers may be at risk of inhaling toxic gases such as chlorine and ammonia or volatile liquids like benzene and ether, which can also pose a fire risk. Lead, silicates and asbestos are also common threats that must be identified, quantified and remedied as quickly as possible, as their effects can be cumulative. However, the biological threats can often pose the greatest challenge to a health and safety risk assessment specialist.
For example, sampling a company’s water supply or collecting dust from its air conditioners to check for Legionella may seem like a reasonably straightforward process. Swabbing the surface of a food preparation area for Salmonella or Listeria may seem equally simple. However, every step involved in these processes and the subsequent handling of samples requires strict aseptic techniques to ensure personal safety and avoid contaminating the samples.
To guarantee meticulous management of every aspect of the health and safety risk assessment, many of South Africa’s top companies now choose to put their trust in the professionals at IOH solutions. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve reliable safety standards in your place of work.