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OHS non-compliance in public health sector of major concern to labour department

 

“No country will be economically sound unless employers realize that workers rights are human rights,” said Tibor Szana, Chief Inspector at the Department of Labour as he addressed the final day of the Hazardous Biological Agents (HBA) Seminar in Port Elizabeth today [20 September 2016].

 

“No country can afford deaths or injuries that take place in the workplace and also the burden that this places on a country’s social security system”, he said.  According to research, the implementation of Occupational Health and Safety programmes adds value through improving quality and productivity in the workplace.  Szana’s statement comes as the results of inspections conducted in the public health care sector presented gross levels of non-compliance.  “80 percent compliance is not enough; compliance needs to be at 100 percent - Zero tolerance!” he said.

 

The two-day seminar is aimed to engage and capacitate public health care stakeholders on the legislation and developments made in the sector.  Participants of the HBA Seminar included shop-stewards, occupational health and safety representatives, nurses and doctors from health institutions. 

 

HBAs are infectious and toxic, but they can also cause allergic reactions such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis, some types of asthma and organic dust toxic syndrome.  In health care institutions, employees are exposed to HBAs because of their interaction with patients suffering from various infectious diseases.

 

Milly Ruiters – Occupational Health and Hygiene Director at the the Department of Labour, presented a comparison of compliance for 2014/2015 and the 2016/2017 inspections in the public health care sector.

 

Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act states that every employer shall provide and maintain as far as is reasonably practicable a working environment that is safe and without risks.  However, in contrast with the Act, the results of 407 inspections conducted in all nine provinces in the public health care sector in 2014/2015, showed that only 91 facilities complied, 316 did not comply.  This showed that the compliance level in HBAs regulation was at 22%.

 

In 2014/2015, the worst performing provinces included the Eastern Cape who was at 18 percent, Gauteng Province at nine percent and Limpopo at a shocking zero percent.  This resulted in some facilities being closed down as a result of of the outcome of inspections conducted.  Many of the severe cases were found in clinics in rural areas in particular.

 

In 2016 another inspection was conducted.  The Eastern Cape improved to 67 percent, however, Gauteng Province and Limpopo continued on their downward trend and non compliance at zero percent respectively.  Northern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal also decreased their compliance level.

        

According to Ruiters, some of the reasons for non compliance included no risk assessment done, employees not inducted and trained on sources of exposure, health effect and control of HBAs; medical surveillance not conducted and carried out in accordance with HBA regulations, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) not provided and no PPE policy in place.  A major concern was also that health care risk waste contractors were not inducted and trained on HBA; no separate lockers or storage facility for protective clothing; no change room, medical surveillance reports not available; inadequate means of ventilation, which was s a major concern as some facilities do not even have natural ventilation.

 

Ruiters noted that given the low level of compliance in the sector, the Chief Inspector has directed the heath care sector to prepare an OHS policy, in accordance with Section 7 of the OHS act*.

 

“Employers now have to prepare a written policy concerning the protection of the health and safety of employees at work, including a description of the organization and the arrangements for carrying out and review the policy within two years from the date of the notice.  The due date for this process is April 2017 where Labour inspectors will visit health care establishments to ensure compliance with the directive of the Chief Inspector,” she said.

 

Other presentations included the management of ergonomic risk factors; cross contamination & infection control, medical surveillance; risk exposure for health care workers and the monitoring and control of the work environment.

 

Issued by

Candice van Reenen

Department of Labour – Communications

 

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