Systematic reforms required in SA's manufacturing industry to address health and safety concerns

A factory worker holding PPE (Image: Pixabay)

The state of health and safety in South African manufacturing firms has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, prompted by a series of high-profile incidents that underscore the ongoing challenges within the sector. One of the most alarming examples was the tragic explosion at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) factory in Somerset West in 2018, which claimed the lives of eight workers. 

Dr Angela Pike-Bowles, developer of the IQ Academy Manufacturing Safety Management Short Course, says that this incident highlighted not only the potential hazards inherent in manufacturing, particularly within industries dealing with hazardous materials, but also raised serious questions about the enforcement of safety regulations and the adequacy of current safety practices. 

“These incidents reflect a broader trend of safety lapses and underscore the urgent need for systemic reforms,” says Dr Pike-Bowles. “It is imperative that manufacturing firms in South Africa prioritise the implementation of stringent health and safety measures. In addition, government must ensure that regulations are not only robust but also rigorously enforced, with penalties that are severe enough to deter negligence.”

She says that only through a concerted effort to enhance safety standards and practices can we hope to prevent such disasters in the future and ensure the welfare of workers and their communities.

So what imperatives should be addressed to enhance safety in manufacturing firms? Dr Pike-Bowles suggests the following:

1. Strengthen regulatory compliance

Ensure that all safety regulations are not only up-to-date with the latest industry standards but are also rigorously enforced. Regular audits and inspections should be carried out to ensure compliance.

2. Invest in training

Implement regular safety training programmes for all levels of staff, from new hires to seasoned workers. For employees, the knowledge gained from a manufacturing safety management course, like that offered by IQ Academy, empowers them to identify and mitigate potential hazards, thereby enhancing their own safety and that of their colleagues. 

For employers, having staff trained in safety management is invaluable, as it leads to compliance with health and safety regulations, potentially lowering insurance costs and reducing legal liabilities. 

3. Upgrade and maintain equipment

Invest in modern safety equipment and maintain existing machinery to reduce the risk of accidents caused by equipment failure. Regular maintenance schedules should be strictly followed.

4. Promote a safety culture

Foster a company culture that prioritises safety above all else. Encourage employees to speak up about safety concerns and involve them in safety planning and hazard assessments.

5. Implement safety management systems

Adopt comprehensive safety management systems that include risk assessments, safety protocols, and emergency response plans tailored to the specific needs of the workplace.

6. Enhance communication and reporting

Establish clear channels of communication regarding safety issues and ensure that all incidents are reported and analysed to prevent future occurrences.

7. Use of technology

Leverage technology to improve safety monitoring and control. This can include the use of sensors, automated systems, and data analytics to detect and respond to safety hazards in real-time.

8. Employee wellness programmes

Recognise that physical and mental health directly impact safety. Implement wellness programmes that promote overall well-being and help reduce work-related stress that might compromise safety.

Dr Angela Pike-Bowles
(Image: Supplied)

9. Collaboration and partnership

Engage with industry experts, safety consultants, and regulatory bodies to stay informed about best practices and innovations in safety management.

“Firms in manufacturing face a myriad of health and safety issues that are both unique to the region and indicative of broader industry challenges, but following a comprehensive and strategic approach can greatly improve safety standards,” says Dr Pike-Bowles.

Visit the official COVID-19 government website to stay informed: sacoronavirus.co.za