From the benefits of micro-learning to preventing workplace violence, the annual Noshcon Conference once again provided occupational health and safety (OHS) officers with invaluable expert insights and advice. MARISKA MORRIS attended

Each year, the National Occupational Safety Association (Nosa) offers its members the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and insights from experts into the challenges facing OHS officers and the changes taking place within the industry through its Noshcon Conference. Held at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton on September 12, the 2019 conference proved no exception.

Karl Campbell, CEO of the Nosa Group, started the proceedings with a welcome address that touched on some organisational changes including new service offerings and acquisitions. This was followed by a hearty breakfast and a short regional awards ceremony for Nosa members that have performed exceptionally in areas of health and safety.

Stafford Masie, technology start-up investor, gave the keynote address in which he discussed the benefits of technology to businesses. He explained that technology assists companies to provide better products and services in the most productive way with more accurate data and monitoring systems. He predicted that in future most data-capturing jobs will be done by machines.

“If a job requires measuring or monitoring, it will most likely be done a computer in the future and the technology will outperform the individual each time,” he said. “However, as technology takes over the mundane jobs, it frees people up to be more creative and create more opportunities.”

After the keynote address, delegates attended various, intimate breakaway sessions, each of which had three simultaneous presentations on different topics.

Business strategist Edmund Rudman spoke about using behavioural economics to create a safer workplace, while Geoffrey Small, SHEQ manager at Eskom, presented on risk-based thinking, and Laura Dall, senior learning and performance advisor at Ceed Learning, discussed micro-learning.

New approach to safety training

In her presentation, Dall noted that after a month people tend to forget about 90 percent of the learning material studied in a traditional classroom setting. Micro-learning offers an easy way to refresh and reiterate important safety information in a fun and interactive way.

“Micro-learning has gained momentum in the area of health and safety training, because it is focused on three to five minutes of key information sharing at any given point,” Dall said. It is important for the information shared through this method to be focused on only one concept, for example, how to correctly place a ladder.

The information should be easily accessible at the point of need. It should serve a similar purpose to that of a YouTube video that explains how to boil an egg. The information can be shared in a game format, or by asking the employee questions.

When Walmart introduced this form of learning it had a 54-percent decline in incidents during the pilot phase, with 90 percent of employees voluntarily participating in the five-minute micro-learning sessions.

Gerard Labuschagne, director of L&S Threat Management, emphasised the importance of protecting employees from violence in the workplace, which can cause stress and reduce productivity.

Life-long learning

Risk management consultant, Natalie Skeepers, spoke to delegates about the need for life-long learning, even after they have obtained a degree or qualification. She noted: “I completed my PhD in 2016. It wasn’t long ago, but I’m already old news.”

It is important for OHS officers to keep abreast of changes in legislation, new approaches and methods of implementing safety procedures, as well as relevant technology. Simply knowing the information, is also not enough. OHS officers will need to be able to implement their knowledge in practical ways.

Skeepers also highlighted the need for OHS professionals to look at new trends in order to best adjust their qualifications. With the decriminalisation of cannabis, for example, she noted there will be a wide range of new job opportunities. Remaining up to date on job trends can also help OHS officers predict challenges in the workplace.

A current common trend is for employees to have multiple jobs. This can create safety hazards in the workplace. For example, an employee might arrive at the office tired or suffer a hearing loss from performing as a DJ part-time. OHS officers will have to be prepared to address these challenges.

Emphasising mental health

Sanjay Munnoo, president of the South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Saiosh) and regional manager of Federated Employers’ Mutual (FEM) Assurance, presented on mental health and how it impacts on safety – specifically in the construction industry.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), there are 23 suicides a day in the country and around 230 serious attempted suicides. These can occur in the workplace and cause even more trauma when colleagues witness the event or the suicidal individual causes harm to others in the process.

Munnoo encouraged businesses to rework policies and procedures to create a safe environment where in employees feel comfortable enough to disclose and discuss their mental illness or challenges with stress, anxiety or depression. He noted: “Only one in every six people report their condition to a manager.”

In addition, companies can provide employees with support by ensuring they have access to the necessary specialists, take their medication and receive counselling when under stress or after experiencing trauma.

Organisations can also look for behaviour that can contribute to or aggravate an existing condition. Bullying in the workplace, for example, is a big contributing factor to stress and depression among employees.

Violence a time bomb

In one of the last sessions for the day, Gerard Labuschagne, director of L&S Threat Management, discussed workplace violence – an often-overlooked aspect of workplace health and safety. Workplace violence can take place between colleagues or be an external threat.

“Most companies think that domestic violence is not their problem, but rather a private matter. This can lead to secondary victimisation when the employee is asked to take care of it,” Labuschagne explained. However, the spouse can cause distress and anxiety by showing up to the employee’s place of work. It might also lead to physical violence.

Internally, employees might cause themselves or others harm when upset. Labuschagne used the example of an employee who punched a manager. Further investigation found that the manager had been verbally abusing the employee. While the employee was disciplined, the manager was fired.

Labuschagne emphasised the need for clear company policy on workplace violence and strategies to prevent or respond to threats. He warned that an unsafe workplace will lead to anxiety, unproductivity, absenteeism and, ultimately, employees leaving their place of work.

Other presentations included a discussion on selecting the correct personal protective equipment presented by Christo Nel, director of sales and marketing in the Middle East, Africa and India at Uvex South Africa; a talk by Keshav Beachen, national sales manager at Nosa Testing, on the purpose, function and contribution of testing laboratories globally; and insights from occupational medicine specialist Greg Kew on cannabis in the workplace and drug testing.

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