The SA Department of Labour criticised public service employers and state departments for dismal health and safety inspection results and “OHS disregard”.
Medical facilities, including hospitals and state clinics, achieved only 22% compliance with Hazardous Biological Agents regulations in 2014. Among 24 Limpopo health facilities inspected, none complied. In North West, only half complied.
“Workers in the public services should also enjoy the basic core rights enshrined in labour law, including the OHS Act, which also binds the state,” said Department of Labour Deputy Director-General of Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES), ThobileLamati.
He told a Hazardous Biological Agents (HBA) seminar at a resort in BelaBela, Limpopo in September 2014; “I say this with heavy heart because I work in the public service.
“Judging from the inspection reports nationally, the health and safety of workers in the public sector is seemingly not a primary issue, it is a secondary matter.
“As a department we have been closing down non-complying offices and schools, and in doing so we do not derive joy. We have closed them because it is our job.
“Every time there is a school, an army barracks, or an office closed by the inspectors, service delivery is affected. As a department we are often accused of focusing only in the private sector when we enforce laws. Our responsibility is to protect every work including workers in the public service.
State clinics need health and safety policy
“In the coming few months [the last quarter of 2014], I will be issuing an instruction to the public service in terms of Section 7 of the OHS Act, instructing medical facilities to develop an occupational health and safety policy,” Lamati said.
The theme of the department’s seminar was: “Improving OHS in the Health Sector”. Lamati presented a hazardous biological agents inspection report from visiting 407 workplaces nationally.
He said there was a dismal 22% level of compliance found in health and safety inspections. “The sad thing is that these are medical and health facilities… health and welfare of workers should be a priority.
In Limpopo province, 24 health facilities were inspected and none complied. “That is a serious cause for concern. The North West is trying its best as there is 50% compliance from employers.
“We believe every worker exposed to hazardous environment creates a problem for the state as they these workers will later be a burden to the overstretched social security and primary health care system.
“Will we ever get a 100% compliance rate? We need to double our efforts to make inroads in the public service.
“In terms of the OHS Act, we are also bound to use legal instruments in case there is failure to comply with the law,” he said.
Many Labour notices issued to clinics
Chief inspector Lamati said there were 47 improvement notices issued in the period under review, and 22 prohibition notices.
He cautioned that the prohibition notices could only be revoked once issues raised by inspectors are addressed.
“People have tendency to take short cuts, instead of addressing the matters raised by inspectors, they phone the Chief Inspector. The law provides for appeal on decision of the inspectors, but proper procedures should be followed in this regard.”
Lamati said the health and safety inspection of public health facilities has uncovered prominent areas of non-compliance ranging from:
 no risk assessment conducted
 employees not inducted and trained on sources of exposure, health effects and control of HBA
 evaluation of hazards to exposure and control measures not carried out
 medical surveillance not conducted in accordance to HBA regulations
 non-provision of personal protective equipment to employees.
The compliance status of the public sector was “worse than poor”. Employers are not discharging their responsibility. “We need to go back to do a feed-back session with individual employers.
“We want to talk to heads of these institutions. The Chief Executives have a responsibility to ensure compliance. We will be having feedback sessions with these workplaces and thereafter follow the latter of the law,” Lamati said.
In October and November 2014, the Department of Labour will increase visibility and enforcement. He said priority will fall on particular hotspots and the training of shop stewards in health sector, including scaling up public awareness programmes.
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