Even with an ever-changing work environment and the introduction of new technologies, there will be a need for health and safety officers. Saiosh president SANJAY MUNNOO shares some insights

During the 2019 Saiosh Conference, Thobile Lamati, director general for the Department of Employment and Labour, gave an address titled: The future of work: Shaping a human-centred workplace. In this presentation, he said: “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 occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, manufacturers of personal protective equipment and labour market regulators.

“It makes 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,” he noted.

A big change to the workplace – and a popular topic at conferences and workshops – is the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which brings ongoing advances in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, self-learning autonomous vehicles and drones.

Among OHS professionals, there are stark contrasts in perceptions about the 4IR. While some have embraced advances in technology advancement, others consider it a threat to their jobs. There is no denying that mechanisation has impacted negatively on employment in manufacturing, construction and mining. However, new technology also brings new risks including exposure to hazardous or physical substances.

Reports suggest that we are entering a new era, called “singularity”, which means a merger between human and machine intelligence that is going to create something bigger than itself. In addition, the global work environment is shifting with the introduction of the gig economy in which employees work short-term contracts, small jobs or perform tasks on online platforms for different companies around the world.

With this comes a transferring of OHS responsibilities onto workers and, in return, a willingness from employees to accept these responsibilities. A report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the United States suggests that an ageing population may have no other choice than to remain in the workforce for longer and accept lower value jobs as their previous jobs disappear.

The rapid advancement of technology and working conditions will require that OHS legislation and regulations are introduced and adopted at a faster pace. Good OHS must remain a priority and should be driven by ethics and a requirement for a sustainable society and business.

I’m a firm believer that the demand for capable OHS professionals will continue to grow even during the 4IR. Saiosh appeals to members to monitor the latest technological OHS trends, retrain themselves and adapt to change.

In other developments, I attended a meeting of Saiosh and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) held in Kloof, KwaZulu-Natal, in September. Alan Stevens, head of global engagement and partnerships at IOSH, and Neels Nortje, Saiosh CEO, were also in attendance. It was agreed that a memorandum of understanding would be drawn up to formalise closer collaboration between the organisations.

Saiosh also approached the International Social Security Association to possibly promote its global campaign, Vision Zero, to improve safety, health and well-being at work. The campaign aims to engage companies worldwide to systematically cut down on occupational accidents and diseases by investing in a healthy and motivated workforce.

Updates on these projects will be conveyed to members. The Saiosh council congratulates the team at SHEQ MANAGEMENT and is confident that this Handbook will provide tremendous benefits. The Saiosh council wishes all readers a safe, happy and peaceful festive season. May 2020 be filled with peace, joy, productivity and prosperity.

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