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Workplace safety is big business
Workplace safety is big business

Workplace safety is big business


Business Day - Nov 29th 2011, 08:19

A company with successful mantra - that all injuries are preventable 

Clocking up 5,6-million injury-free man-hours is quite a feat in a factory of hundreds of employees, and producing 40000 tons of paper products a year. Mpact’s corrugated-paper plant in Brakpan has managed just that — registering its last lost-time injury more than six-and-a-half years ago.

"The last injury was in May 2005, the GM of Mpact Corrugated Brakpan, Andre Harmse, says. "A lost-time injury is where a guy cannot start his next shift."

The plant makes corrugated boxes for farm produce, fast-moving consumer goods, and industrial markets, and is part of Mpact’s national footprint of paper-recycling factories, and corrugated, packaging and industrial paper and plastics plants. The group, spun off from Mondi in May, maintains a philosophy espoused by CEO Bruce Strong. "All injuries, occupational illnesses, safety and environmental incidents are preventable and our target for them is zero."

Highly visible safety regulations include reminders on hearing protection, hand-washing, the movement of trucks and forklifts, conveyer equipment, moving machine parts and hot machinery.

And in spaces where people and machinery are constantly on the move 24/7, annual excellence in health and safety awards buttress the point. Its plastics plant in Germiston has machinery capable of making 900000 units a day, or 1,6-billion assorted products a year. Health and safety, allied with quality, matter in an industrially polluted world. Much has been written over decades about poisoned food and drink products, rivers, soil and airspace, whether in China, Nigeria, Europe or the US.

Occupational safety, health, environment and quality management have become big business, worldwide. And allied to COP-17 climate talks in Durban, and levels of toxic fumes from Cape Town to London, Jakarta to Beijing, Mexico City to Sao Paulo, companies and societies at large are becoming far more aware of their surrounds.

But it is such disasters as the one in Bhopal, India, in 1984, when methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals leaked at the Union Carbide pesticide plant, exposing thousands of people to death and illness, that stick in the memory.

Estimates vary on the immediate death toll, from 2259 to 3787, while other sources estimate 3000 people died within weeks and 8000 more subsequently died from gas-related injuries. Reports say 170000 people were treated at hospitals and temporary dispensaries, while 2000 buffalo, goats, and other animals were buried.

A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558125 injuries, including immediate, temporary and partial injuries, and severe and permanently disabling injuries. To this end, the chemical sector in SA said last week it practices Responsible Care, a global initiative by the chemical industry that encourages signatories to continually improve their safety, health and environmental performances.

In SA, all Chemical and Allied Industries Association (CAIA) members voluntarily sign a pledge committing themselves to the guiding principles of the initiative, and to communicate with stakeholders about their products and processes. The guiding principles specify that companies and their employees should be concerned about their own safety and that of the communities that surround their sites.

They should co-operate as a team, share information, clean up their environment and save the earth for future generations. To do this, chemical firms and their employees should know where safety equipment is and how to use it.

Staff are encouraged to report for annual medical assessments, and support their facilities’ waste management and energy conservation programmes. "More and more chemical companies are recognising that safety and health issues move beyond … their boundaries and own employees," Dr Laurraine Lotter, executive director of the CAIA, says. "Many are undertaking a responsible approach by developing programmes that reach out to the nearby communities in which they operate. These help to educate and inform them about what they make and do, about their performance and about their achievements and challenges."

Responsible Care signatories implement emergency response programmes to ensure their sites can deal with emergencies — whether it be chemical releases, fires, or injuries.

Products must be transported safely, and the South African industry says it is equally concerned about global warming, and has started to measure the carbon footprint of its operations. The programme’s mantra is constant improvement, learning and resource sharing, something SA as a country would do well to learn from. 

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