Investing in workplace health and safety

HARARE - October is the month in which the nation honours and celebrates companies that have done well to raise the flag of occupational health and safety (OHS).
 
Recently the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) recognised companies that performed well during the year in this area.

Congratulations to those who were awarded prizes and we commend them for being in the right direction.

May the awards motivate others who did not get them to aim to be on the podium next year.

Many managers, especially in companies that regularly receive awards, realise that OHS has become a business case and organisations can ignore it at their own peril. Neglecting to invest in OHS results in negative consequences such as:

- Bad publicity — companies with high accident frequency rates find it hard to attract good employees. Investors also find such companies unattractive and shun them. Regulatory authorities come heavy on employers with soiled reputations.

- Volatile industrial relations — high accident frequency demoralises staff and draw a gulf between them and management. Fighting and haggling become the routine. As a result workflow is disrupted resulting in lost revenue.

- High insurance and welfare costs — companies prone to accidents carry huge insurance bills as they are considered high risk. Accidents also result in high welfare costs.

- Lost man-hours and downtime — when an accident happens time is lost attending to injured employees. In case of a serious accident the regulatory authority may suspend use of the machine until investigations are done and corrective or preventive action implemented.

- High replacement costs — some machines may be damaged beyond repair and need to be replaced. A motor vehicle may be written off after an accident. Replacing an injured or dead employee costs the company in recruitment and training. The injured employee must also be maintained on salary.

- High funeral expenses — untimely deaths disrupt the company’s financial plans. The company foots the bill resulting in funds being channelled from revenue generating activities to funeral and related expenses.

- Litigation — much has been documented about Union Carbide after the Bopal disaster in India. The catastrophe threatened the company’s existence.

Although the veracity of the above is widely accepted, realising the dream of fully compliant work places in Zimbabwe with regards to OHS faces many hurdles. Talking to some managers and leaders of labour unions the following were identified as the challenges:

- High cost of compliance — putting up the necessary measures is expensive and beyond the reach of many employers.

- High unemployment — employees fear speaking out as they are told to take it or leave it. They are reminded that there are so many unemployed people who are willing to take over from them.

- OHS viewed as a luxury — some managers have not accepted OHS as a priority area that influences the company’s financial results. Nssa says OHS may account for up to 20 percent of the losses accrued by companies annually.

- Companies being in survival mode — every cent has to be invested where there is a direct benefit. As much as managers appreciate the importance of OHS there is nothing left in the coffers to invest in it.

- Ignorance — Some managers and employees do not know how important OHS is. To them OHS requirements are a burden. They consider resourcing OHS efforts a cost rather than an investment.

- Inadequate resources — the regulatory authority is handicapped by inadequate resources namely, technical, financial and human. Considering the number of inspectors at Nssa and close to 50 000 workplaces in the country, chances that all workplaces will be inspected regularly are close to zero.

- Pressure to be ‘‘investor friendly’’ — government is in a catch-22 situation. It has to balance creating OHS-compliant workplaces on one hand and attracting investors on the other. OHS becomes a casualty in pursuit of the ‘‘bigger’’ goal.

The above factors are real and require serious consideration. However, they should not paralyse those affected by them into inaction. Instead they should consider strategies that they can implement as a way of going around the obstacles.

As already pointed out preventing accidents and deaths in the workplace must be first prize for organisational leaders in view of the impact on a company’s bottom line. Which are some of the opportunity areas which managers and employees can consider in order to improve the standard of OHS in their workplaces?

- Provide leadership — everything starts at the top. Managers must establish OHS management systems, seek compliance with relevant legislation, set up OHS committees and appoint representatives, be accountable for OHS in workplaces and lead by example.

Institute OHS policies and procedures to guide OHS management and enforce compliance.

Do inspections and system audits. Investigate accidents and institute corrective or preventive action.

- Training and induction — instruct employees on machinery prior to use. Training must cover safe operating procedures and safety devices. New employees must be inducted on OHS. Inductions must cover policy, regulations and procedures. Competent personnel must conduct trainings and inductions.

- Safety engineering — maintain machines regularly. Guard moving parts on machinery. Machine design must not expose employees to danger. Protruding machine ends must be modified. Factory layouts must promote safety.

- Raise awareness — regularly conduct safety campaigns. Engage Nssa to provide OHS education to employees. Invest in visual aids such as fliers and posters. Educate staff on the benefits of good housekeeping. Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees exposed to risk.

- Key appointments — appoint a management representative for OHS responsible for strategy, policy and enforcing compliance. Where permissible, engage an OHS officer responsible for providing technical guidance on OHS to management and employees.

- Adopt best practice — seek certification to OHSAS 18001 standard which focuses internally (on employees). OHSAS helps institute best practices and allows for system audits by outsiders.

- Reward and sanction — recognise and reward those who abide by OHS regulations. Discipline those that habitually violate them.

- Embrace safeguards — employees must not cut corners. They must follow established procedures and respect safety devices. Employees must not expose themselves to hazards like unsecured loads.

PPE must be worn at all times. Employees must not engage in horse play which exposes them to risk.

- Trade union involvement — representatives should go beyond salaries and consider the total situation of employees. They must take the statement “an injury to one is an injury to all” literally. Bargain for more powers to educate staff on OHS, do inspections and investigate accidents.

CONCLUSION

Management must look out for opportunities to affect their companies’ performance positively.

A healthy workforce reduces absenteeism which affects production schedules, product quality and timeous product distribution. Accidents eventually affect employee morale and motivation which negatively affect productivity. Besides, they increase insurance premiums and other costs.

A company with a history of accidents has its reputation adversely affected which affects the amount of business that flows to it. Through investing in OHS, managers increase profit margins and cut back on losses. The sooner they do that the better for their organisations.

The ball is in management’s court. - Etwell Mutsungi

*Mutsungi is a senior consultant at future Human capital an hr consulting firm.

He can be contacted on emutsungi@gmail.com or http://www.facebook.com/pages/Human-Capital-Matters or on numbers 0773799936, 0772269785 and (04) 852996 or at no. 4 Camerroon road, Borrowdale, Harare.



    Comments (1)

    yaah that true ,i liked it when you managed to speak of the limitations or the challenges that organizations are facing in the implementation of OHS and also the benefits of investing in OHS ,its a good piece thanks for the information ,great day

    Michael - 24 March 2017

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