Construction work is inherently dangerous. In South Africa this is reflected in the alarming incident and accident statistics in the construction industry.
Unsafe conditions are only a contributing factor in 10% of incidents experienced – it is employee actions or lack of correct actions that contribute to 88% of all incidents. Health and safety is everyone’s responsibility from the CEO to the construction site.
The publicity around the official enquiry into the October 2015 collapse of the Grayston Drive pedestrian bridge on Gauteng’s M1 highway has hit news headlines in recent weeks. This incident was responsible for the deaths of two people while a further 19 were injured. Current commentary suggests that lack of correct actions may have been the reason for the tragedy. The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) told the inquiry that a set of bolts on the scaffolding had not been installed and that M&R representatives had decided that the missing bolts would not affect the structure. The next inquiry session will take place between April 19 and 21. No matter the final outcome of this incident, a key message for business SA will be that upholding health and safety is a culture that needs to be entrenched.
In the greater scheme of things, two construction workers are killed every week and anecdotal evidence indicates that employees acting unsafely is the cause of 80% of accidents, resulting in injuries or damage to equipment.
Unfortunately, this suggests that the Occupational Health and Safety Act’s Construction Regulations have not yet had the desired effect on achieving and maintaining acceptable health and safety standards in the construction industry.
“Existing poor health and safety trends may be highlighting the fact that until government, organized labour and construction employers commit to urgently implementing the requirements of legislation and the recommendations set out in the Construction Health and Safety Accord, this disturbing rate of attrition in the construction industry is unlikely to be reversed,” says Dr Robin George, OCSA’s Chief Occupational Medicine Consultant. “Role players need to avoid any further delay in meeting their responsibilities to build a culture of safety.”
The problem is often exacerbated when it comes to SMMEs. There are limited resources to provide for health and safety by small and emerging contractors. The pressure is on however, as larger construction organisations need the compliance of smaller service providers before they can allow them to work on-site. OCSA has seen a trend where larger organisations are finding that outsourcing to a professional partner such as OCSA is more economical than running their own in-house clinics.” This compliance is good news for the industry particularly as the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993 states that construction cannot go ahead if health and safety regulations are not in place.
Apart from the legal and social responsibility ramifications, health and safety incidents in the workplace also have financial implications. This should put health and safety issues as well as proper training and management at the top of the priority list for employers and employees.
In 2015, OCSA experienced a 10% increase in international training interest from African countries. Seventy percent (70%) of OCSA’s training at its Academy of Excellence is for short courses. The remaining 30% demand is for the Occupational Health Diploma. There is a 20% increase in demand each year for this diploma, as more school leavers are becoming interested in the medical field, and OH in particular.
“The introduction to Occupational Health and Safety is key to any organisation’s safety. If employees are not trained in the basic principles of Health and Safety, the environment, and how to protect themselves and fellow workers, the company is likely to pay the price with accidents and injuries,” says OCSA’s OH Diploma training and Quality Manager, Alta Kruger. OCSA offers an introductory course targeted at all employees. The OH and Safety Act is covered as well as legal duties and hazards that have the potential to effect health and safety in the working environment.
OCSA offers Medical Surveillance solutions in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Construction Regulations:
Regulation 7(1)(g) a Principal contractor must…
(g) ensure that all his or her employees have a valid medical certificate of fitness specific to the construction work to be performed and issued by an occupational health practitioner in the form of Annexure 3.
(8) A contractor must ensure that all his or her employees have a valid medical certificate of fitness specific to the construction work to be performed and issued by an occupational health practitioner in the form of Annexure 3.