South Africa’s “Vision Zero” Duty of care or jail term

“Vision Zero” is the latest safety slogan as introduced by South Africa’s Minister of Employment and Labour, Minister Thulas Nxesi while addressing about 1 000 delegates at the Occupational health and safety conference at Emperors Palace, Gauteng. He said business and organised labour have key roles to play to achieve the Vision Zero.

“We have to work with organised business to ensure compliance and to assist them to act as responsible citizens. This is especially the case in the majority of workplaces – which remain unionised,” he said.

The Minister said unions and shop stewards also need to rise to the occasion to safeguard the conditions of their members and to report non-compliance.

“That also means inspectors have to respond timeously and effectively to compliance”, he said. The Minister said it was crucial for inspectors to be adequately capacitated to provide the services the Department offers.

He said achieving Vision Zero means moving towards a trained health and safety officer in every workplace. In high-risk sectors – such as mining and construction – this has assisted in reducing the statistics for injuries and fatalities.

The Department, through the Chief Directorate for Occupational Health and Safety provides a suite of services, which can be tailored to individual sectoral needs. These include:

  • To develop and amend regulations, policies and guidelines
  • To work with stakeholders and to provide training
  • To conduct specialised inspection and incident investigation as required
  • To administer special projects – such as the Iron and Steel project, and
  • Most importantly to train Inspectors – including technically specialised Inspectors for specific sectors.

The Minister said: “We require OHS inspectors of a high calibre who have been fully trained and are fully operational to service the clients of the Department through the OHS Act and its 21 Regulations and numerous incorporated Standards. The OHS Inspector will need to display competence in the following areas: qualifications, knowledge, skills and the right attitude and passion towards the work that he/she has applied for – together with the requisite experience. And of course, the level of inspection will vary from the highly technical to the more general OHS issues. There is a specific role to support and advise SMMEs where resources are more limited – but compliance is still required”.

Department of Employment and Labour Director-General, Thobile Lamati said not much has been done to prepare people for 4th industrial revolution. He asked the question, “How do we respond to new risks and opportunities brought about by 4th industrial revolution?” Lamati said health and safety was not about safety management systems but, “about duty of care” .

Lamati said inspector’s responsibilities were misunderstood. When incidents happen people ask where were inspectors? He said inspectors cannot be expected at each and every workplace.

The Director-General said over the years the Department has observed that self-regulation does not work. He said the intention has been to focus on sectors that do not have systems. He said the amended OHS Bill would be prescriptive. He also said in the amended OHS Bill for the first time workers would refuse to work in dangerous work environments. He said there will also be a push for the passing of the bill into an Act this year.

Lamati said inspectors have a responsibility to ensure that labour legislation should not be an exercise in ethics, “But it actually works“. He said there was a need to establish a credible labour inspection system – and this was vital to ensuring of safe work environments and decent work.

He said the Department has expectations of an effective labour inspection that faces the challenges of the labour market.

According to the Department’s Chief Inspector, Tibor Szana, they are “on the verge” of employing 500 occupational health and safety (OHS) inspectors, in a move that will have major change in the workplaces. A similar comment was made about the new OHS Bill a few years ago.

Szana said this major change would require of the Department of Employment and Labour to broaden its scope of work by also focusing on the small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and the informal sector.

“In the next 10 years health and hygiene will never be the same. We are clear what we are about to do. When we look back this will be a major turning point. We will be leveraging on the use of technologies to fulfil our objectives,” Szana said, opening the door for a long awaited move away from pre-historic paper based systems and methods. “We are doing all these to prepare for challenges that will be posed by the fourth industrial revolution.”

Szana said the health and safety profession was on the throes of major changes. He said there were some 21 regulations governing the health and safety environments and these would be of no value if the high accident environments persist. He said while the world of work is changing, the next 10 years will matter.

Department of Employment and Labour Inspector-General, Aggy Moiloa, delivering the opening address said decent work cannot be achieved without sound, safe and healthy environments. Moiloa said every occupational incident is preventable.

“Workers have a right to work in environment that is not harmful. Decent work cannot be achieved without sound, safe and healthy environment, and when that gets compromised productivity levels suffers,” Moiloa said.

She cautioned that safety should not be done as a ‘by the way’, adding that employers should not be lured by the ‘short cut syndrome’.

A special message was also given for the ailing construction sector.

The Director of Construction, Explosives and Major Hazards Installations (MHI), Phumi Maphaha says he wants to see a jail term as a form of sanction to violators of occupational health and safety (OHS) in the construction sector as it would send a strong message to contractors who are cutting corners.

Maphaha was making a presentation on the findings of structural collapse incidents.

He said according to 2016 statistics there was an average of 12 500 construction sites in South Africa, involving some 1,4 million workers. He said the sad part was that the industry was responsible for a substantial number of fatalities.

According to Maphaha moves are afoot to not only inspect construction sites, but to visit managers in their offices, “Most of incidents that occur could have been prevented in the boardroom”. Maphaha warned that if a structure collapses the constructor was usually be the first person to blame, emphasising that, “if a structure collapses there is someone to blame”.

Maphaha warned designers to move away from slender column designs. He said designers were doing this at a risk. Building slender columns would be playing at safety, he said this was contributing to a lot of structural collapses.

He said there was a need to go back to a drawing board and do things the right way. He said it was imperative that at conception stages of construction, there was proper health and safety practitioners to discuss issues.


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