The importance of preventing occupational diseases and injuries

Written by Dr Sophia Kisting • Online since 5.09.2017 • Filed under Advertorial • From Issue 6 - September 2017 - February 2018 page(s) 66
The importance of preventing occupational diseases and injuries

While many South African workplaces adhere to national and international OEHS best practice, many do not. It is imperative that there is a mind-set change towards greater prevention and an urgent need to reduce the current heavy burden of work-related diseases and deaths.

Workers in South Africa are exposed to many occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) hazards that could result in adverse health outcomes, including Tuberculosis and HIV, occupational respiratory diseases, skin diseases, reproductive health problems and hearing loss.

 Workplaces can also cause diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, work-related stress and cancer, or can make these better or worse. Inadequate OEHS teaching and training, and a lack of universal access to occupational health services, impact negatively on health outcomes. Occupational and nonoccupational diseases can be prevented or managed better through workplace programmes that support a healthy, safe and productive workforce.

The Global Development Agenda (GDA)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations in September 2015, include decent work, health and gender equity. The SDGs are universally applicable to balance different dimensions of sustainable development. They apply to all countries and are intended to promote human rights, greater equity, peaceful and inclusive societies, create decent and sustainable jobs, and address the enormous environmental challenges of which climate change constitutes a significant part.

The SDGs provide us with an opportunity to aspire more determinedly to achieve decent work and therefore integrate OEHS into our development agenda. The appropriate control of workplace hazards will not only benefit workers’ health but will also protect the environment, communities and our children.

Gender equity     

In 2016, the NIOH Gender@Work programme was launched with support from government departments, trade unions, employer organisations, and international agencies to mainstream gender concerns in OEHS in the workplace. The NIOH Gender Committee coordinated a participatory gender audit (PGA) between 2015 and 2016, which is globally considered as a powerful tool for organisational transformation and helping to identify organisational strengths and challenges towards gender integration. PGA’s role is particularly important in the context of the GDA and South Africa’s commitment to delivering the KPIs of the 17 SDGs.

Technology strengthens workplace OEHS

Advances in technology significantly contributes to improved OEHS globally. These include developments in engineering devices, personal protective equipment, and more efficient methods of managing diseases and injuries. To improve OEHS systems and utilise technology more optimally, the NIOH – in collaboration with the University of British Columbia – implemented the Occupational Health and Safety Information System (OHASIS). Where implemented, the system shows significant positive impacts on the practice of OEHS. It is our conviction that OHASIS will greatly enhance OEHS practice in the public and private sectors in South Africa and beyond, and will assist with more effective compliance with OEHS legislation.

The SDGs provide incentives for implementing gender inclusive programmes in OEHS within all industrial sectors and the informal economy, and facilitate sustainable economic growth and decent work for all. SDG eight calls for the promotion of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work.

This enables South Africa to find inclusive processes to help address, among others, the vexing challenge of our heavy burden of disease as countries must report on the 17 goals through various KPIs. The NIOH and its multidisciplinary teams are committed to working with as many business role-players as possible for healthier, safer and more sustainable workplaces.

National Institute for Occupational Health – NIOH

Issue 6 - September 2017 - February 2018

Issue 6 - September 2017 - February 2018

This article was featured on page 66 of SABI Magazine Issue 6 - September 2017 - February 2018 .

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