Keynote address at the Saiosh 2019 Conference

Director General: Department of Labour, Mr Thobile Lamati, was the keynote address at the Saiosh 2019 Conference held in May at the Gallagher Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa.

“Program director, when Mr Neels Nortje (Saiosh CEO) asked me to be a keynote speaker at the Saiosh 2019 conference, I hastily agreed without giving it that much thought.
Firstly, I saw it as an opportunity to talk to a group of occupational health and safety practitioners about the work that we have been doing as a country, we have been intimately involved in as the Department of Labour.
Secondly, to sound an alarm to the health and safety practitioners that the future of work is uncertain and will therefore, require us to adapt fast, lest our profession becomes irrelevant. Assuming that off course, we are not replaced by robots that will not embark on an industrial action or ask for personal protective equipment or clothing or a salary raise.
Thirdly, as an honorary member of Saiosh, I felt obliged to come.

I am sure that all of us here have heard of the Fourth industrial Revolution and the disruption that it is causing to the traditional ways of working. So in essence, we’re no longer talking about what is still to happen, rather about what is already happening.

Due to the digitalization phenomena, a number of non-negotiable truths exist:

The 4IR is upon us. Mechanization is upon us.

  • This means that production is happening without people.
  • This implies the potential substitutability of smart robots and artificial intelligence for human beings in the labour force in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy.
  • Full-time employment contracts has, in some instances, given way to less formal, gig economy workplace agreements.
  • The traditional social protection is inadequate to deal with these changes in the labour market.
  • Because our policies are steep in the industrial era, the developments are challenging the effectiveness of our industrial era social insurance policies tied to stable employment contracts.
I have therefore, themed my address to you as . . .

“ Future of work: Shaping a human centered workplaces”

Our President Cyril Ramaphosa was asked by the International Labour Organization to co-chair the Global Commission on the future of work.
The Commission produced an excellent report which has huge implications for the world of work, especially, for the Occupational Health and Safety Practitioners, Manufacturers of personal protective equipment, and us as labour market regulators.

The report starts by making a clarion call to all of us to seize the moment by invigorating the social contract that gives working people a just share of economic progress, respect for their rights and protection against risk in return for their continued contribution to the economy.

The report further reminds us about the importance of work.

“Work sustains us.

It is how we meet our material needs, escape poverty and build decent lives. Beyond our material needs work can give us a sense of identity, belonging and purpose. It can expand our choices, allowing us to glimpse optimistically into our own future.

Work also holds collective significance by providing the network of connections and interactions that forge social cohesion. The way in which we organize work and labour markets plays a major role in determining the degree of equality our societies achieve”

Yet we all know that work can also be dangerous, unhealthy and poorly paid, unpredictable and unstable. Rather than expanding our sense of possibility, it can make us feel trapped, literally and emotionally. And for those unable to find work, it can be a source of exclusion.
We now face one of the most important challenges of our times, as fundamental and disruptive changes in working life inherently affect our entire societies. New forces are transforming the world of work. The transitions involved create urgent challenges.

Technological advances, artificial intelligence, automation and robotics  . . .

will create new jobs, but those who lose their jobs in this transition may be the least equipped to seize the new job opportunities. The skills of today will not match the jobs of tomorrow and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete. What is scary for me is that the crowd working websites and app-mediated work that make up the platform economy could recreate nineteenth-century working practices and future generations of “digital day labourers”.

Some of you are aware of the phenomenon called platform workers.

Are we ready for the challenges that this form of work poses?

To mitigate the effects of these challenges, the report calls for a new approach that puts people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice:

To put bluntly, there’s a call for a human centered agenda for the future of work.

This agenda focuses on three pillars of action.

  • Firstly, it means investing in people’s capabilities, enabling them to acquire skills, reskilling and upskilling and supporting them through the various transitions they will face over their life course.
  • Secondly, investing in the institutions of work to ensure a future of work with freedom, dignity, economic security and equality.
  • Third, investing in decent and sustainable work and shaping rules and incentives so as to align economic and social policy and business practice with this agenda. By harnessing transformative technologies, demographic opportunities and the green economy, these investments can be powerful drivers of equity and sustainability for the present and future generations.

Program Director, most importantly, what the
Global Commission on the Future of Work has well-articulated is the fact that Labour is not a commodity to be traded in markets for the lowest price; workers are human beings with rights, needs and aspirations.

Institutions of work must ensure that labour is afforded freedom and dignity, economic security and equal opportunity. These institutions are designed to address the inherent asymmetry between capital and labour and ensure balanced and fair labour relations. They are the building blocks of just societies and include laws, regulations, employment contracts, employers’ and workers’ organizations, collective agreements and labour administration and inspection systems.

When well designed and operational, they also help labour markets and economies perform better. The development of these institutional capabilities is necessary to give full effect to people’s capabilities. The delivery of the social contract depends on them. Some of you familiar with the labour relations act and occupational health and safety act, would recall that both legislations have provisions that seek to facilitate the establishment of the dialogue at a workplace. This was done with the express intention of developing a social contract which will bind both parties.

Sadly, this has not taken off as envisaged. There are however, employers who have ensured that health and safety committees are established. Their effectiveness though is questionable.

The transformations under way in the world of work demand the strengthening and revitalization of the institutions governing work, including through the establishment of a Universal Labour Guarantee, expanding time sovereignty, revitalizing collective representation and harnessing technology for decent work. These steps are necessary to shape a future of work with social justice, build pathways to formalization, reduce inequality and working poverty, enhance security and protect the dignity of labour.

So, what does this have to do with the occupational health and safety practitioners?

More specifically, what does this have to do with Saiosh as an organization? Well, as practitioners, we are not immune to the labour market challenges currently characterizing our labour market. As leaders you are in a better position to influence the culture of your organizations to take informed decisions. As you all know that health and safety has to be imbedded in the culture of the organization. The best people to ensure that this happens are leaders within the organization and professional bodies such as Saiosh.

Program Director, I must state it categorically that I am a proponent of “Zero Harm” I strongly believe that all incidents are preventable. This off course is premised on the fact that proper risk assessment has been done and proper steps of mitigating the risk are clearly defined.

To the Chief Risk Officers and Risk Management Practitioners present, please ensure that occupational health and safety risks are elevated into your top ten strategic risks.

As a Department, we have made your work much easier by ensuring that in the amendments of the OHS Act we prescribed that a risk management system must be implemented. By putting this provision in the amendments, hopefully, occupational health and safety matters will receive the same priority and attention given to other strategic organizational matters. We have also prescribed that a health and safety management system be implemented.

These legislative changes are an admission on our part that self-regulations has failed to protect workers from unscrupulous employers.

Program Director, there’s empirical evidence that supports the fact that health and safety is a function of strong leadership and organizational culture.

I have been asked on a number of occasion to decode what Section 16 of the OHS Act means in relation to the role of institutional leadership in creating a healthy and safe culture.

I have over the years diligently expressed the legislatures intentions with regards to the role of leadership and organizational culture in protecting the health an safety of workers.

The numerous studies undertaken on the importance of safety culture contend that there are five characteristics of a positive safety culture.

  • Firstly, leadership is the highly visible commitment to safety by top management, a characteristic vital for providing a positive safety culture.

  • Secondly, safety should be clearly communicated as a value, not as a priority that can be traded off against cost and schedule.

  • Thirdly, decentralized decision-making and accountability of key groups responsible for safety is important for creating and maintaining a positive safety culture. That is why we have structured Section 16 to enable organizations to decentralize decision making while ensuring that Top leadership doesn’t abdicate it’s responsibility.

  • Fourthly, all employees should learn about safety and contribute ideas on improved safety, hence the establishment of health and safety committees cannot be over emphasized. A positive safety culture is achieved when employees learn from insight and intuition rather than incidents, and change their ways of thinking and acting by sharing their experiences and addressing shared problems.

  • Finally, a positive safety culture is one in which safety is a top priority and is integrated into every aspect of the company.

In particular, among the five characteristics, the leadership of employers is the key to developing a positive safety culture.

According to Patrick Hudson safety culture can be divided into five levels of development, from “Pathological,” to “Reactive,” to “Calculative,” to “Proactive,” to “Generative”.

  • In a “Pathological” safety culture, employers and workers do not care about violating safety rules; this is often termed a “No care” safety culture.
  • In a “Reactive” safety culture, safety becomes important only after an accident; this is often called a “Blame safety culture.” From our experience as the Department, through the work done by our inspectors, pathological and reactive safety culture are the dominant judging by the levels of compliance and high incident rates in certain sectors.
  • In a “Calculative” safety culture, systems are in place to manage all hazards; this is often called a “Planned safety culture.”
  • In a “Proactive” safety culture, workers do not work on problems they find, but avoid problems in advance to improve the work environment.
  • A “Generative” safety culture is a dynamic safety culture, in which safety is built into ways of working and thinking.
  • Thus, a poor or pathological safety culture can develop into a positive or generative safety culture when a change in culture is properly managed.

I guess that’s the reason why we are today being hosted by Saiosh here. As mentioned earlier on, the concept of a prevention culture is implicitly based on the concept of a safety culture. Both utilize a cultural approach.

A safety culture aims to reduce work-related risks, whereas a prevention culture aims to reduce both work-related and non-work-related risks.

The long title of the OHS Act compels us to ensure that not only people involved in work are protected by the law but everyone who is likely to be affected by the actions or lack thereof, of people at work.

We have all heard the old adage that “ prevention is better that cure”

When I started my address, I mentioned the fact that 4th industrial revolution is upon us. Just as it begun to impact on other forms of work, the occupational health and safety practitioners are not immune from the effects of the 4th industrial revolution.

One of the leading health and safety gurus, Terry L. Mathis, when addressing the Campbell Institute Symposium of the National Safety Council, highlighted the fact that “the driver of this revolution is technology, but the implications of it go much deeper. Changes in technology without accompanying strategic and cultural changes can cause more problems than they solve.”

So how do you as a safety practitioner, safety consultant, and business owner prepare your safety efforts to meet these coming challenges?

I have noted, Program Director, that on the second day of this conference, the Vice President of IOSH, Mr James Quinn, will talk about “Shaping the future of Safety and Health”.
I suppose he will go into details with regards to how we can leverage the 4th industrial revolution to ensure that the future of work is centered on human development and social justice. Nevertheless, I would like to make the following points largely informed by Terry Mathis views on

steps we need to take as practitioners to leverage the 4th industrial revolution . . . and thereby shape our workplaces into human centered institutions.

The first step he argues is to become more familiar with emerging technologies for safety and more generally for other purposes that may support safety efforts. You cannot manage something that you don’t know.

New products are being developed at an incredible pace and health and safety professionals will find they need either more time, exposure (this kind of workshop / conference will go a long in assisting practitioner to acquire more knowledge), professional help from the IT department or even a dedicated safety technician.

New digital equipment referred to here ranges from drones and robots to wearables for workers, proximity sensors for vehicles and even smart PPE.

As health and safety practitioners, we are advised that where we are, we need to develop a technology road map. Although such a plan may change due to future issues or developments, it will provide a foundation for planning other aspects of safety that must support the technology.

The road map will enable the expansion or redevelopment of the overall safety strategy. If the organization does not have such a strategy, then now is the time to develop one. Strategy is a methodology and plan to achieve a goal. In this case, the strategy should be the way the organization is going to identify and mitigate risks inherent in the products or services produced.

Strategy is much needed in safety where all too often the efforts are a group of programs directed at lagging indicators.

In programmatic safety programs, major actions are often reactive rather than proactive. Strategy recognizes that success is more than avoiding failure, and outcomes are the result of processes and performance. The strategy aligns the processes and performance according to the strategic methodologies.

The most excellent safety strategies begin with the mindset that workers are not a problem to be controlled, but rather the customers of safety efforts.

The strategy should be centered around adding value to those customers to enable them to do their jobs more safely. New technology can enable the organization to move up the hierarchy of controls, eliminating employee exposure and relying less on administrative controls. As all of us are involved in health and safety, we are called upon to examine our leadership styles. What is certain though is that the style and method of safety leadership needs to change as new technologies are adopted.

In conclusion, Program Director, much as the narrative around the future of work tends to focus more on the negative impact on work, as the Department and government in general, we are buoyed by the possibilities that are brought about by the changes in the labour market.

We concur with the report on the value of leveraging technology to improve our efficiency as a labour market regulator. For instance, technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and sensors, carries with it countless opportunities to improve work, the extraction of knowledge through the use of data can assist us to identify high risk sectors and improve the efficacy of our inspection system. This is important for us because we will never have the number of inspectors that we require to monitor the levels of compliance with the labour laws.

Leveraging technology, partnering with you as health and safety practitioners, and the professional bodies such as Saiosh, we can ensure that the use of technology supports decent work agenda and thereby helps us to shape our workplaces into human centered institutions.

I therefore, would like to thank you Mr Nortje and your team for inviting me to your conference. I would also like to wish you, and all the participants a fruitful conference.

I thank you.”

Thobile Lamati (Mr)
Director General: Department of Labour


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