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History of Occupational Health and Safety in South Africa

Thursday, 02 May 2019  
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Saiosh CEO, Neels Nortje, takes us down memory lane and chronicles the history of Occupational Health and Safety in South Africa





Health and Safety Legislation


In the early years from about the First World War, it was recognised by the South African Government that too many serious injuries and fatalities were occurring in the workplace. The war effort had caused high production and desperate measures to turn out armaments according to the demand. In an effort to control this, the Factories Act, 1918 (Act no, 28 of 1918) was promulgated, which set a standard for South Africa’s industry. During the Second World War, the Factories Act was improved on and replaced by the Factories, Machinery and Building Work Act, 1941 (Act no. 22 of 1941). This Act placed duties and responsibilities on users of machinery, occupiers of factories as well as builders.


Some 40 years later we saw the introduction of the Machinery and Occupational Safety Act, 1983 (Act no. 6 of 1983) followed 10 years later by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 (Act no. 85 of 1993). What was notable of this Act was the introduction of Occupational Health. There is currently a Draft Occupational Health and Safety Bill that, according to the Department of Labour, will be published shortly for public comment.


Other related Occupational Health and Safety legislation in South Africa are the Mine Health and Safety Act, 1996 (Act no. 29 of 1996), the South African Maritime Safety Authority Act, 1998 (Act no 5 of 1998), the National Railway Safety Regulator Act, 2002 (Act no. 16 of 2001), the Civil Aviation Act, 2009 (Act 13 of 2009) and the National Road Traffic Act and Regulations, 1996 (Act no. 93 of 1996). It is interesting to note that all these Acts are post democracy baring the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 (Act no. 85 of 1993).


Health and Safety Management Systems


The National Occupational Safety Association (NOSA) was established in 1952, it was funded by the then Workmen's Compensation Commissioner (WCC). NOSA's purpose was to advise management on accident prevention and loss control. In doing so NOSA developed a 72 Element Management by Objective (MBO) Five-Star 5 system.


The Introduction of the NOSA Rating System came about because the Sugar Millers Association, which held an annual safety competition, was displeased by a directive issued by the NOSA board in 1966. The directive prevented competition marks from being divulged or published (coded individual marks). The Millers Association management was adamant that they needed to know how well, or otherwise, each mill had fared. Wyn Burgers, the Natal NOSA Regional Safety Organizer at the time, needed to somehow satisfy them while remaining within the parameters of the new NOSA Directive. The solution he came up with was the NOSA Rating system, which was approved by then GM of NOSA, Godfrey Terry, in December 1967.


The system was introduced and explained at a NOSA Natal Region Group meeting held in Durban in February 1968 and was received with enthusiasm by both the Sugar Milling Industry as well as the rest of Natal NOSA Membership. In order to avoid a clash with the star rating system used by the Hotel Industry, initially alphabetical grading symbols were used.





Saiosh CEO Neels Nortjé


The first ever firm in South Africa to be rated was AMCOR in Newcastle, NATAL. The first “A” rating was obtained by African Oxygen followed by SA Tioxide at Umbogintwini, Natal. When the Rating system was introduced nationally by NOSA in 1970 the Vaal Region appointed an ad hoc committee to consider the implementation in that region. The committee recommended that the system be changed to a star rating system.


Over the years a number of health and safety management systems have been developed and used in various industries in South Africa, the latest being the ISO 45001:2018 adopted by the SABS as SANS 45001:2018.


Health and Safety Institutes


The South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Saiosh) had its origins from the Natal Safety Officers group that was established in 1957. Just as the group was considering a Constitution and a role as a Professional Safety Institute, it was beaten to it by a Cape Town group called the SA Institute of Industrial Safety Officers (SAIISO) that was established in 1952. The Natal group joined SAIISO and established the SAIISO Natal Branch.


In the early 70's SAIISO decided to change its name to the Chartered Institute of Industrial Safety Engineering (ChIISE). The Natal group did not go along with this and named themselves the Institute of Safety Management (ISM). The acronym later changed to IoSM.


On 11 February 2010 the IoSM KZN Coastal Branch stepped away from the IoSM to establish Saiosh. In 2013 Saiosh achieved recognition from the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) as the Professional Body to register Occupational Health and Safety Practitioners in South Africa in terms of the NQF Act, Act 67 of 2008.


With more than 13000 members Saiosh is today one of the largest professional bodies in the world and the leading source of information and networking opportunities within the Occupational Health and Safety profession in South Africa. Saiosh members are from a wide range of industries from the private and public sector. Saiosh is a non-profit organisation representing individuals and organisations that are committed to the enhancement of the Occupational Health and Safety discipline. Saiosh is the choice for OHS practitioners in Southern Africa, dedicated to the advancement of the OHS profession, through research, promotion, education, upliftment, training, guidance and strong relationships with other OHS organisations.

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