In terms of Schedule 12 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, every employer whose employees undertake listed work or are liable to be exposed to the hazards emanating from listed work shall, after consultation with the safety committee establish for that workplace:

a. Identify the hazards and evaluate the risks associated with such work that constitutes a hazard to the health of such employees and to determine what steps need to be taken to comply with the provisions of the Act (also see General Safety Regulations R 2)
b. Knowing the risks associated with such work and the level of exposure to the employees, an occupational hygiene program and biological monitoring / medical surveillance programs need to be instituted.
c. The Health and Safety Representatives must be kept informed of what action will be taken in their sections of the workplace. The information of the biological monitoring and medical surveillance will only be made available to an inspector, the employer and the employee concerned. Should any other person / institution require the information, written consent needs to be obtained from the employee concerned?

No work has as yet been specifically promulgated as listed work (to our knowledge) but any operation where Hazardous Chemicals, Lead or Asbestos are handled or any operation using noisy equipment can be regarded as listed activities. For all of them the above is applicable.

The hazards need to be identified and a risk factor needs to be calculated – i.e. a risk assessment needs to be carried out on all operations. In some operations more than one risk assessment needs to be carried out, e.g. a chemical plant. A Hazardous Chemical Risk Assessment as well as a General Risk Assessment must be carried out. The first will look at the dangers of the various chemicals used and the risk of exposure while the General Risk Assessment will look at all other aspects of the operation, e.g. lifting of bags, handling of drums, using of overhead cranes etc.

Once the risks have been identified a program needs to be put in place to monitor some of the risks. This will include such surveys as a noise survey, air monitoring, illumination survey, a ventilation survey, a heat stress survey etc. These surveys need to be repeated on a regular basis and can vary from once every three month to once every two years. The frequency depends on concentration / level and hazard concerned.

It is very important that the Health and Safety Representatives are involved. Inform them when an Occupational Hygienist like myself or a Medical Doctor will be inspecting the site and evaluate the employees. Also discuss with them why it is done and what the purpose of the exercise is. It is highly embarrassing when a nursing sister comes on site and needs to draw blood from certain employees and the employees have not been informed. This leads to confrontation and could end up in a strike.

Lastly, the Act clearly states that an inspector, the employer and the employee need to have access to the results (without written consent) but that all other persons / parties must obtain written consent from the employee concerned. It is the employers right to know the blood lead level of an employee (if he works with lead); but non work related medical condition (e.g. infertility) remain confidential between the medical practitioner and the employee. What is of importance is to have a very good working relationship between the medical practitioner and management.

Let us keep a good balance between striving for throughput (profit) and overall safety.

Written by Frans Wilbrink of Wilbrink & Associates, tel. 031 – 266 9035