Invest in Workers’ Well-Being on World OHS Day – FEDUSA

 28 April 2021

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) would like to draw inspiration from the theme for this year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work is: ‘Anticipate, Prepare and Respond to Crises – Invest Now in Resilient Occupational Safety and Health Systems’ and urge employers and government to invest in the well – being of workers in the workplace.

Workers find themselves exposed to existential threats and unprecedented economic hardships in the context of an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) environments that have been dangerously complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The task of building resilient OHS systems in this situation can therefore never be over-emphasized.

Last month Cabinet approved the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Bill 2020 which seeks to amend the OHS Act, 1993 (Act 85 of 1993) and align it to best  international OHS benchmarks for public comment.

However, the gazette has apparently not yet been published as no electronic nor hard copies of the Bill are accessible to the public.

Although the Bill seeks to achieve this objective by allowing workers to ‘withhold their labour, should they feel the environment is dangerous and unsafe, without being victimized by their employers’, the fire that gutted a large part of the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg last week has once again been another dramatic reminder of the gross inadequacy of OHS measures in state buildings.

The September 2019 Quarterly Employment Statistics (QES) Survey shows that more than 10 million workers are employed in South Africa’s formal non-agricultural sector. The QES also shows that on average these workers spend eight hours a day at their workplaces, which can give rise to crowds concentrated in confined spaces because of work processes that require people to be close to one another.

Such environments make it difficult to observe the social distances that have been recommended by the World Health Organization (OHS) and from an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) perspective, have the potential to be COVID-19 super spreaders. Communal ablutions facilities, canteens in which food and cutlery are shared and poor hygiene in a number of workplaces, constitute further potential super spreaders of the deadly virus.

South Africa’s formal labour force is also generally drawn from working class and marginalised communities in which high population density, poverty, malnutrition, co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and chronic respiratory disorders are prevalent, contributing to a significant OHS multiplier effect in the workplace.

From a business perspective, workers are key drivers of productivity, sustainability and profitability and it would be prudent for employers to invest in their well- being. In addition, employers are legally bound to respond timeously to the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace in the context of OHS legislation.

FEDUSA also salutes all health workers and essential services employees for their courage and dedication in fighting the COVID-19 virus. These heroes and heroines are overworked and under-resourced in our already struggling health facilities.

(481 Words)

For interviews please contact:

Ms Riefdah Ajam

FEDUSA General Secretary

079 696 2625

Mr Ashley Benjamin

FEDUSA Deputy General Secretary

083 258 4433

Issued by:

Frank Nxumalo

FEDUSA Media and Research Officer

072 637 8096