Zero harm at workplaces is achievable. This was the message repeatedly emphasised at the recent National Conference on Occupational Safety and Health.
Talking Social Security with NSSA
It was emphasised by Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Nicholas Goche when he officially opened the conference and when he addressed the conference awards dinner at the end of it. It was also emphasised by National Social Security Authority (NSSA) general manager James Matiza.
All too often, it is taken for granted that factory, mining and construction accidents are inevitable and that it is unavoidable that there will be work-related deaths and serious injuries each year. Yet accidents at work are avoidable.
The number of accidents at work in Zimbabwe that result in deaths or serious injuries is high. The number shows no sign of diminishing.
It has been suggested in the past by NSSA’s director of occupational safety and health Rodgers Dhliwayo that the high number of casualties shows a lack of concern on the part of employers for the safety and health of their employees.
Last year there were 5 141 serious occupational injuries which resulted in 103 deaths, the highest number of occupational injuries and deaths since 2007, when there were more injuries but fewer deaths.
In 2011 there were 4 158 serious work-related injuries recorded, 75 of which were fatal. In 2010 there were 4 410 serious injuries, resulting in 90 deaths. In 2009 the figures were 3 122 serious accidents with 64 deaths. In 2008 there were 3 810 serious injuries with 65 fatalities.
This year 49 deaths at work and 3 641 serious work-related injuries have already been recorded. Last year over the same period 63 workplace deaths and 3 218 serious work injuries were recorded.
Eighty-eight percent of accidents that occur in the workplace are attributable to human errors. Only 6% of workplace accidents are caused by machines and their layout.
Environmental factors, such as poor visibility, heat, noise, dust and wet conditions, are responsible for four percent of workplace accidents. Just 2% of accidents are attributed to unavoidable natural events.
Ninety-five percent of accidents due to human factors can be blamed on inadequate supervision or management of safety issues.
Speaking at the National Conference on Occupational Safety and Health awards dinner, Dhliwayo pointed out that if employees failed to make use of the protective clothing and equipment that were provided for them and were injured as a result management would be held accountable for this.
It is management’s responsibility not simply to provide protective equipment but to ensure that it is used.
Employers and workers both have a responsibility to ensure safe working environments and practices.
Employers have the primary responsibility for ensuring workplace safety, through adhering to safety regulations, ensuring boilers and machinery are safe, ensuring machinery that requires safety guards is fitted with those guards, providing employees with protective clothing and safety materials and ensuring they use them, putting in place occupational safety and health systems and procedures, educating staff on safety precautions and procedures and putting systems in place to ensure safety procedures are complied with.
However, employees must also play their part. After all it is generally their safety and health that are at risk, if they do not follow laid down safety procedures.
They need to adhere to established safety and health procedures and policies, wear protective clothing and equipment provided for them, bring to management’s attention any safety and health risks and press for the necessary steps to be taken to minimise these risks. If necessary, where their concerns are not addressed, they should report them to NSSA’s occupational safety and health department.
The winners of health and safety awards, which included large companies in the mining and construction sectors, have demonstrated that it is possible to have a good safety and health record even in areas where the potential for accidents is high.
Deaths and injuries at work are not inevitable. As the NSSA general manager, Matiza, put it at the safety and health awards dinner, loss of life through occupational accidents is simply unacceptable.
Talking Social Security is published weekly by the National Social Security Authority as a public service.