EVERY year, about 2.78 million workers, globally, die from occupational accidents and work-related diseases, while an additional 374 million workers suffer from non-fatal occupational accidents. This is according to the United Nations Global Compact.
The statistics equate to 7500 people dying from unsafe and unhealthy work conditions every day,” said Dr Sanjay Munnoo, president of the South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
In an article written ahead of the Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (FEM) Safetember Conference – Munnoo, chief business development officer of FEM, said the construction industry has been identified by the International Labour Organisation as having a disproportionately high rate of recorded accidents.
The conference – held in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban during September – highlighted workplace health and safety in the construction industry and beyond.
“Closer to home, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of all workplace accidents that occur nationally across the various sectors. This is due to SA having a large informal workforce, meaning a vast number of accidents are not reported. Much of the data collected is obtained via insurance claims by employers through workmen’s compensation service providers providing a snapshot of the country’s dire situation,” Munnoo said.
He said FEM, a mutual insurer offering workmen’s compensation services for the construction industry in SA, recorded 6 157 reported accidents for 2022 alone (as per data extracted in June 2023). “Of these reported incidents, 48 resulted in fatalities and 581 resulted in permanent disability for the victim.
“Based on claims received for the year, the leading cause of workplace accidents were “struck by” incidents – accidents where the victim was “struck by” a motor vehicle while working, or “struck by” falling items , (such as a brick on a construction site). “Struck by” accidents comprised a massive 32.3 % of the workplace incidents reported to FEM in 2022.
“More concerning is that these statistics only account for around 50 % of the formal construction workforce in SA that FEM insures (with the Compensation Fun as the insurer for the rest of the formal construction workforce.) They do not account for accidents in the informal construction sector at all. The question remains, are we doing enough to bring down these excessively high accident rates?”
Munnoo said, from a legal standpoint, SA legislation includes several acts relating to Occupational Health & Safety (OHS), including the recently amended Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA). “While some of these acts are industry specific, they have one goal in common – ensuring the health and safety of workers through the prevention of occupational injuries and diseases. However succeeding in reducing – and ideally preventing – workplace accidents is dependent on compliance with legislation by both employers and employees.
“Employers need to have the correct health and safety processes in place and ensure that staff are trained and continually upskilled to uphold strict safety standards. There are numerous resources employers can tap into to keep employees informed and upskilled. There are several professional bodies and associations offering training, seminars, and workshops aimed at promoting occupational health and safety.
“Employees themselves need to be fully committed to their own health and safety, as well as that of their colleagues. This means taking all necessary precautions, following due process and safety protocols and being fully aware and focussed at work – particularly when it comes to high-risk tasks. Importantly, all parties must enforce both legislation and best practise when it comes to occupational health and safety – this includes safety officers, management, project leads and employees themselves.
“Even where legislation falls short it’s up to management and staff to bridge the gap to ensure organisational health and safety. Commenting on the Occupational Health and safety (OHS) Amendment Bill (2020), advocate Raynard Looth (appointed by SAIOSH to review the bill) emphasised: managers and supervisors are an essential part of an employer’s health and safety management system and deserve statutory recognition. At the end of the day, regardless of legal frameworks, it is employees themselves who suffer the consequences of non-compliance or negligence … and they need to take responsibility within their own workplace surroundings.”
Munnoo said education and awareness campaigns are vital to shifting mindsets and positive behaviour towards health and safety.