The ninth iteration of the annual conference of the South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Saiosh) saw a large turnout of attendees from all spheres of the occupational health and safety (OHS) sector. The SHEQ MANAGEMENT team was there in full force too! This report was filed by DEBORAH RUDMAN, MARISKA MORRIS and CHARLEEN CLARKE – and they concur that this was the best Saiosh conference to date. Here are just some of the highlights

Each year, the conference – held over two days – is an unmissable opportunity for delegates and speakers to share their expertise, insights and assessment of current and future OHS directions, both locally and globally. The world-class facilities of the well-appointed Gallagher Convention Centre again provided a comfortable setting for the more than 250 delegates.

Proceedings began on Tuesday May 14 with a welcome by Neels Nortjé, CEO of Saiosh, who noted the importance of the conference as a platform for discussion and debate on a range of OHS topics.

After introducing conference chairperson Ken Annandale, he screened the new TV advertisment for personal protective equipment (PPE) supplier Dromex, which was first flighted nationally on May 1 and was due to be televised throughout the month. Its PPE message was apposite: “Most people will never know how to feels to face danger every day – but we’re not most people.”


Keynote speaker Thobile Lamati, director general of the Department of Labour, made important points about work in South Africa, observing that as we undergo the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the workplace is facing an uncertain future. (Read more about his address in the next issue of SHEQ MANAGEMENT.)

Albert Mushai, head of insurance and risk management at the University of the Witwatersrand, and a regular SHEQ MANAGEMENT contributor, focused on the issue of vicarious liability, tracing the origins of the concept back to 17th century England, and explaining how the doctrine has expanded into an all-embracing and powerful precept today.

He warned that vicarious liability would become more challenging in future. “The scope for vicarious liability continues to widen, largely driven by the courts. The claims are increasingly difficult to defend because many relationships that are conventionally not those of employment are being linked to employment. Traditional defences – like independent-contractor defence – are slowly being rendered inapplicable.  Employers need to continue investing in training methods that pay due regard to sources of vicarious liability,” he stressed.

The topic of indoor air quality was examined by Julie Riggs, an OHS academic practitioner based in the United Kingdom (UK). Her informed analysis gave the audience a few surprises – not all of them pleasant – and she made it clear that much needs to be done to combat this “sleeping giant” in our midst.

Singing, dancing and learning, too

While the content of the presentations was serious, there were plenty of lighter moments. The notoriously challenging “graveyard shift” immediately after lunch was entertainingly filled by the multitalented Aubrey Ndlangamandla (“Mr Zee”) who dispelled any post-lunch stupor with an energetic OHS presentation, combining song and dance – and getting the audience to join in with gusto. Amid the fun, he reminded delegates that the law imposes on employers a weighty responsibility: to “inform, instruct, educate and promote” OHS.

Advocate Hendrik Terblanche addressed the complexities of liability in the eyes of the law for any damage and harm caused in the workplace. The consequences of ignoring OHS rules can be dire, as Terblanche pointed out.

“In 2004, ten people were killed in an explosion at Sasol’s polymer plant in Secunda. An instrument technician pleaded guilty to ten counts of culpable homicide as he admitted to negligence that resulted in the accident. He was sentenced to a year in prison or a fine of R50 000,” he revealed. (Look out for a full report on his talk in Issue 5 of SHEQ MANAGEMENT.)

Brian Darlington, group head of safety and health for the Mondi Group in Austria, and yet another SHEQ MANAGEMENT contributor, spoke about the importance of first-line managers in OHS. In his view, companies should do away with the slogan “safety first” and rather move towards “safe production first”. Darlington stressed the importance of involving managers.

“We will not move to the next level of performance without getting all first-line leaders ‘switched on’ to the safety efforts and aligned in the desired message,” he stressed. He really got the conference rocking, with a call for delegates to remove their shoes and shout “bingo” at the same time. There were lots of “bingos” to be heard from the room – and some delegates were fortunate to win copies of a safety book for children, penned by Darlington’s late wife, Bella.

Concluding the first day’s formal presentations was Hope Kiwekete, a management consultant specialising in risk management and environmental issues. Kiwekete, who also pens a popular column in the pages of SHEQ MANAGEMENT, opened the delegates’ eyes when it comes to the ins and outs of ISO 45001.

“The challenge at hand is considerable. Every day, people die as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases – more than 2,78-million deaths per year. Additionally, there are some 374-million non-fatal work-related injuries each year, resulting in more than four days of absences from work. The human cost of this daily adversity is vast and the economic burden of poor occupational safety and health practices is estimated at 3,94 percent of global gross domestic product each year,” he noted.

Delegates then had the opportunity to network (and digest the day’s proceedings) over cocktails and dinner at the awards function in the excellent Gallagher Grill.

James Quinn, vice president of the the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (Iosh), opened the second day of the 2019 Saiosh Conference with a discussion on shaping the future of OHS, specifically from the perspective of Iosh. With its 2022 strategy, Iosh hopes to reach as many people as possible to enhance, collaborate and influence.

For Quinn, attracting more youth and students is key. He is currently working on a white paper on the inclusion of students and looking to invite student members to serve on the Iosh Council for a year. Part of attracting more youth, is also making OHS an attractive career for young people.

Iosh is also conducting a number of studies including whether smartphone messages will improve construction worker sun safety; the health and safety of remote workers; and evaluating mental health first aid in the workplace.

Major concerns surrounding mental health

Mental health is a particularly interesting topic for Iosh – especially in the construction industry. Quinn noted: “Even though deaths in construction are lowering in the UK, sadly, from the mental health side of things, the figures are alarming. Over 450 people, who work in construction, committed suicide in the UK last year.” However, Quinn concluded that Iosh will continue to educate and work towards improving health and safety.

Greg Kew, an occupational medicine specialist, followed with a discussion on cannabis use and its impact on workplace testing and risk management. While the private use and possession of cannabis or marijuana has been decriminalised, Kew noted that duty of the employer is unaffected.

“The employer is still required to prevent an incident from taking place as a consequence of someone being under the influence of a substance, regardless of whether or not the substance is legal,” he said. Employers can thus view cannabis in the same light as alcohol. However, testing if an employee is under the influence of marijuana is challenging.

Traditional urine tests can determine only if the individual uses the drug as traces of the substance remain in the body for up to two weeks, which results in a positive reading. Instead, Kew suggested a drug-alyser to test intoxication similar to a breathalyser test.

Although oral tests are available to determine if a person is under the influence, they present some challenges. It can be difficult to get a reliable source and, unlike alcohol with a limit, there is no widely accepted or agreed-upon limit for cannabis levels. (Read more on this topic in the 2019 Issue 5 of SHEQ MANAGEMENT.)

Moving on from substance abuse to repeat accidents, Owen McCree, MD of The Compliance Group, spoke to Saoish delegates about why safety investigations fail. He started his discussion by pointing out that about 85 to 90 percent of accidents can be attributed to at-risk behaviour. He challenged a popular approach of not finding blame in an accident investigation.

“Explain to me the use of including safety protocol into a disciplinary code if there are no plans to use it,”
McCree said. “If a person has been trained, checked, tested and observed, they are competent by virtue of their training, knowledge and experience. If they breach safety procedures, they are responsible.”

In addition to holding the relevant people accountable, McCree argued that the purpose of the investigation should go beyond just finding the root cause, but also why the root cause exists.

“When conducting an audit after a fatal incident, if I find there was poor communication, I investigate how this poor communication came about. I determine whether the line manager is competent and whether the supervisor understands effective communication.” he explains. “We think we have the root cause, but it can be so much deeper and so much bigger.”

After understanding all the factors affecting the incident, McCree urged OHS officers to collaborate with the other departments and use their expertise to find a solution. He added that there should also be measures in place to see if these solutions actually impact the OHS in the business.

Finally, Christo Nel, international direct of sales and marketing at UVEX, concluded the day with a discussion on the best practice for selecting personal protective equipment (PPE). This starts with ensuring a correct risk analysis is undertaken by a certified and qualified individual about the work environment, so that the manufacturer or supplier can make an educated recommendation about the correct PPE for the application. (Read more about Nel’s suggestion when choosing PPE and a supplier in the next issue of SHEQ MANAGEMENT.)

Saluting achievers

Two sought-after awards, the Saiosh Student of the Year award and Saiosh Person of the Year award, are presented at the Saiosh Conference each year, and the 2019 event was no exception.

The Saiosh Student of the Year award for 2019 – given to an exceptional student studying for his/her National Diploma in Safety Management, or similar higher education qualification – was Dolly Mkize. “She completed seven second year subjects of the Unisa Diploma in Safety Management, achieving six distinctions. She missed the seventh one with just two percentage points,” Neels Nortjé reveals.

The Saiosh Person of the Year – awarded to a Saiosh member who has done outstanding work in the OHS sector – went to Jerry Ramdunee, who has been involved in the safety, health, environment, risk and quality environment for more than 25 years.

“He is currently the national convener of ISO 45001 and represents South Africa at the International Organisation for Standardisation as a member of the ISO/TC 283, the body responsible for developing the ISO 45001 standard for occupational health and safety management systems. He is also a Chartered Member of Saiosh (CMSaiosh),” reveals Nortjé. Ramdunee also publicised an article on the ISO 45001 in the 2019 SHEQ Handbook.

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