Source: Department of Labour
Title: Mdladlana: World Day for Safety and Health at Work
World Day for Safety and Health at Work
Honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen
Programme director, your worship, Mayor of Rustenburg
Director of ILO
Representatives of organised labour
Representatives of organised business
Representatives of the media
Director General of Labour
Ladies and gentlemen
Today, we are gathered to celebrate the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. This is not only the time to collaborate but also to remember and honour those who continue to face challenges of health and safety at workplaces. We are mindful that many of them will not return home and that those that will return will be maimed or categorised as terminally ill. Some will be lucky or in a fortunate position to walk away with their lives. There are those employers who will continue to "discard" these unfortunate workers without conscience and without any consideration for their moral obligations.
We salute those workers who have had to pay with their lives and we remember those families who today, will not have the pleasure of a mother or father at home as a result of unsafe and unhealthy workplaces. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) theme for 2007 World Health and Safety Day is "Safe and Healthy workplaces - making decent work a reality".
For South Africa, this year signifies the celebration of five years of rising successes marked by what the Department of Labour, together with its social partners, have achieved:
1. Signing of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Accord in 2002 saw labour, business and government coming together with the realisation that no "one" entity would succeed in fighting this fight without the other. Each constituency committed itself to working with others to attain a common goal-health and safe workplaces.
2. The Programme for the elimination of silicosis by the year 2030 was launched in 2004. South Africa and a number of other countries around the world have joined the ILO to face an on-going challenge in eliminating silicosis at the workplace. In order to deal with this issue effectively, South Africa launched the programme for the elimination of silicosis and to that end we must ensure that we reach the commitment of reducing the prevalence of silicosis by 2015 and elimination of silicosis at workplaces by 2030 or earlier.
3. National and provincial occupational health and safety fora have been running for the last couple of years and were developed to provide labour and business with a platform to deal with common issues that needed to be addressed.
4. An OHS Conference hosted in October in Boksburg last year saw over 500 delegates in attendance. The sole purpose of the conference was to allow stakeholders to contribute to the on-going programmes currently underway in my Department. Some of the resolutions of that conference included:
* the establishment of industrial forums
* training of inspectors and workers.
5 High risk sector incident reduction programme has been a key element in the reduction of incidents over the last year.
The challenge though that my Department is faced with is under-reporting of incidents. This not only has an impact on the statistics kept by the department but that we are not in a position to assist employers to prevent similar incidents from taking place at that particular workplace again. Monitoring of the impact of the legislation also becomes difficult. I therefore wish to remind all of us here of our on-going commitment to ensuring compliance with legislation by reporting incidents in line with prescribed legislation.
6. Increased use of blitzes on specific sectors. This year we will continue our focus on the construction sector as we did in 2004. My department also blitzed two other problematic sectors that are also showing signs of not dealing effectively with incidents at their workplaces. We will continue our focus on this and other sectors until we make that much needed break through. I have indicated in the past that one death at any workplace is one death too many.
As we are all aware, at this moment in time our country is undergoing a tremendous boom in the construction sector with the coming of the Gautrain and the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Dams are being built in certain parts of our country in order to address our natural resources and its scarcity. There are also tremendous growth areas currently underway in different parts of our country. With this pressure being placed on our resources, there is little or no room for error as the margins are tight. Workers will be required to work overtime when things do not go according to schedule and this naturally comes with its own set of challenges.
Globally construction seem to be a growing sector but also a problematic sector in terms of health and safety and as community in South Africa, we need to make a difference in this sector to promote health and safety. Decent work is safe work and it involves:
* opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income
* security in the workplace and social protection
* better prospects for personal development and social integration
* freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives
* equality for opportunity and treatment for all women and men.
Ladies and gentlemen, the ILO estimates that over two million workers die each year from work-related accidents and diseases and globally this figure appears to be on the increase. In 2005, R168 million was paid for claims received from construction sector only. In 2006, R201 million was paid for claims received from the construction sector. This represents 9,4 percent of all claims paid out by the Compensation Commissioner. During the 2005/06 financial year the total number of fatal incidents were reduced by 3,8 percent. Unfortunately though, the incident rate in the construction sector for 11 months of last year stood at over 130 fatalities. It is evident then that the economic cost is high without referring to the social impact. This money could be used to improve the infrastructure and other social issues in this country of ours.
My Department has already considered its options going forward in the light of the boom in the construction sector and how to deal effectively with the challenges that this sector poses. Should the current economic growth continue in this sector then we could see a spiral upwards in incidents unless we as a collective arrest it. We have begun a process of ensuring that our inspectors are ready to meet the future needs in an ongoing programme and to that end we have trained about 60 inspectors in construction recently. This programme will continue into the future as we seek to provide those of you in the construction sector with the appropriate services that you require.
Ladies and gentlemen, the South African government has ratified all ILO conventions related to principles and rights at work committing ourselves to upholding the basic human values-that are vital to our social and economic freedom, viz. freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining etc. We are bound by the ILO constitution to promote and realise in good faith the principles concerning fundamental rights. ILO member states adopted a global Occupational Safety and Health strategy in 2003, "to promote a preventative approach to reduce work related accidents and diseases".
ILO instruments such as guidelines play a vital role in the promotion of occupational health and safety at work. While the Department of Labour has committed itself to using these invaluable documents in order to promote occupational health and safety my staff are also in the process of developing guidelines that speak to our local conditions and has already developed its own guidelines for the construction sector amongst others. The inspection enforcement service strategy of the Department of Labour is being reviewed to allow us to deliver appropriate services to our clients and to ensure a higher level of compliance is achieved.
My inspectors will also take on an additional role over the next couple of years to ensure that we as a collective join forces in tackling the challenge that we have in dealing with the scourge that continues to ravage our country and to this end they will be trained on HIV/AIDS at the workplace in order to assist employers and labour.
In conclusion, we continue to look to you for that much needed support and will look forward to working with you and listening to you as the workers and employers of this beautiful country of ours. I urge all workers, employers, to actively participate in securing a safe and healthy working environment through a system of defined rights, responsibilities and duties where the principle of prevention is accorded the highest priority by treating the symptoms first.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Labour
4 May 2007