Safe, healthy working conditions: Responsibility for employers, employees

Ensuring safe and healthy working conditions is an important responsibility for both employers and employees. Minimising chances of accidents and disease in workplaces is not only beneficial for those who work there, but for businesses themselves.

NSSA has an Occupational Safety and Health division dedicated to promoting safety and health in workplaces. It does this through a combination of educational campaigns and factory inspections.
There are safety regulations in place that factory owners have to comply with. However, complying with the law is a minimal requirement. Laws cannot cover every possibility there is for accidents or ill health arising out of working environments.

Ensuring a working environment conducive to safety and good health is in a business’s own interests because when employees are injured or fall sick they become less productive and may have periods of zero productivity because they are off work due to sickness or injury.

Millions of workers the world over are affected every year by occupational injuries or diseases caused by workplace hazards.

According to International Labour Organisation (ILO) global statistics, 337 million work accidents occur every year. Work-related diseases affect more than 160 million workers every year. Each year there are 2,3 million work-related deaths.
On average 5% of the workforce is absent from work every day due to sickness or injury. This may vary from between 2% and 10% depending on the sector, type of work and management culture.

Work kills more people than war or malaria, according to the ILO. In developing countries the risk of work-related injury or disease is 10 times more than in industrialised countries.

In Zimbabwe, 4 111 serious occupational injuries were recorded last year. In 2010 there were 4 410 workplace serious injuries reported.

Health is not merely the absence of illness or infirmity. It is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. There are many workplace hazards to health which need to be controlled or eliminated.

To ensure that a working environment is as conducive as possible to the safety and health of those who work there, it is necessary for employers and employees to take a close look at what promotes safety and health and what may endanger it.

In its broadest sense, occupational safety and health focuses on the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of employees in all occupations; the prevention among employees of adverse effects on health caused by their working conditions; the protection of employees in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health; the placing and maintenance of employees in an occupational environment adapted to their physical and mental needs and the adoption of work methods that are best suited to human employment.

Risks may be highest in factories and mines, but they exist in offices as well. Having telephone wires or electricity or computer cables lying around office floors, as can be seen in many offices in Zimbabwe, is, for instance, a hazard as it is easy for people to trip over them.

An occupational accident is an undesired and sudden occurrence arising out of or in connection with work that results in physical harm to one or more employees. Usually it is the result of contact with some object or some source of energy, such as gravity or electricity, that causes accidents.
Violence at work among or to employees can be considered occupational accidents. Travel, transport or road traffic accidents in which employees are injured in the course of their work are also considered occupational accidents.
Occupational diseases are diseases that are known to arise out of exposure to substances and dangerous conditions at work, machinery or plant processes or in particular trades or occupations.

When it is clear that a disease has been caused by exposure in the course of a person’s work, then that disease is considered both medically and legally an occupational disease.

There is a wide range of diseases that can be related in one way or another to occupational or working conditions.

Occupational diseases have a specific or strong relationship to the occupation. Usually there is only one specific cause of the disease and it is clearly recognised as such.

There are also work-related diseases with multiple causes, where factors in the work environment may play a role, together with other risk factors, in their development.

There are diseases too affecting working populations that are not caused by conditions at work, but may be aggravated by them.

By recognising and evaluating hazardous factors affecting employees’ health, it may be possible to take steps to reduce, eliminate or provide protection against these hazards. The main thrust should be to prevent ill-health rather than cure it.
Hazardous factors which affect employee’s health can be divided into five groups, namely physical, chemical, biological, mechanical and ergonomic and psycho-social.

Physical hazards include noise, vibration, heat and cold, lighting intensity, ionising radiation, non-ionising radiation, pressure extremes and electricity.

Chemical hazards include dust, fumes, gaseous emissions, chemical liquids such as solvents, chemical mists, fibres (eg asbestos fibre) and chemical vapours.

Biological hazards include bacteria, viruses, fungi, moulds, insects and yeasts.
Mechanical and ergonomic hazards include factors such as posture, movement, repetitive actions, unguarded V-belts and defective machinery.

Psycho-social factors embrace such issues as job stress, worry about the job, work pressure, unsocial hours, job insecurity and sexual harassment.

All these hazardous factors need to be managed to prevent accidents and ill-health among employees, who are the key means of production.
The estimated costs of occupational accidents and illnesses can be as much as three to four per cent of a country’s gross national product.
Occupational accidents and diseases can, therefore, not only affect the individuals concerned and a company’s productivity, but even a country’s development.

Conversely, improving occupational health and safety will be beneficial for all concerned.

Talking Social Security is published weekly by the National Social Security Authority as a public service. Readers can e-mail issues they would like dealt with in this column to or text them to 0735 041 278. Those with individual queries should contact their local NSSA office or telephone NSSA on (04) 706517-8 or 706523 5.


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