In South Africa, Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) is a prime concern in all sectors of the economy. Ensuring the safety of employees in the workplace is an essential part of running a successful business. In the past 100 years, much has been done to enhance safety conditions in various industries and to instil safety awareness among employees.

History of Occupational Health and Safety in South Africa

During the period around World War 1 (WW1), the South Africa Government realised that the workplace was fraught with far too many serious injuries that even resulted in a high number of fatalities. High demand for armaments due to the war effort only exacerbated the problem. To mitigate the issue, the Government introduced the Factories Act, 1918 (Act No. 28 of 1918). Years later, during World War 2 (WW2), the Act was replaced by the Factories, Machinery and Building Work Act, 1941 (Act No. 22 of 1941). Subsequently, the Machinery and Occupational and Safety Act, 1983 (Act No. 6 of 1983) was introduced and further down the line we saw the introduction of the Occupational and Safety Act, 1993 (Act No. 85 of 1993).

Never hazard a guess around workplace hazards

One of the important elements of Occupational Health and Safety involves the management of workplace hazards. To identify such hazards an Occupational Health Risk Assessment should be carried out and should take into account biological, physical, chemical, psychosocial as well as ergonomic risks. Based on the risks identified, the next step involves the development of a medical surveillance programme.

Different risk factors are associated with specific industries and sectors. For example, the metalworking, agriculture, fishing, aviation, transportation and mining industries are all considered to be high risk in terms of physical dangers to employees whereas psychosocial risks such as violence in the workplace are more predominant in occupational groups such as teachers, correctional officers and healthcare workers.
To be able to effectively manage health and safety issues in the workplace requires an in-depth understanding of the various types of workplace hazards, their associated legislative requirements as well as the dedicated support of qualified Occupational Health Practitioners.

Safety in the workplace is paramount

In this day and age one would assume that safety in the workplace would be a prime consideration. However, this is not always the case. Nevertheless, more often than not, this is due to a lack of commitment to the process and limited available funding. Notwithstanding, there are particularly obvious reasons why workplace safety needs to be a top priority and we now turn to the mining industry to examine a case example.

Case study – the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR)

In March 2019, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), who publish their statistics on an annual basis, released the Mine Health and Safety Statistics for 2018. These statistics include details around the number of fatalities, occupational diseases and injuries that were measured for the 2018 period. The good news is that these current statistics reveal that there has been a slight decrease in the number of fatalities and injuries across the South African mining industry.

Injuries and Fatalities
• For 2018, 2350 injuries were reported whereas in 2017 2669 were tallied which reflects a slight decrease in injuries in this sector.
• As compared to 2017 there was a slight decrease in fatalities with 81 reported incidents.
• Fall of ground incidents were the cause of 31% of reported fatalities.
• 3 major mine disasters that resulted in loss of life took place during 2018.
• The gold sector is responsible for the highest number of fatalities recorded for the mining industry.


While the number of reported injuries and fatalities in the mining sector had decreased, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) confirmed that through the Mine Health and Safety Council, it would continue to engage with its social partners to ensure a higher degree of safety for mineworkers going forward.

Injuries and fatalities result in financial losses and damage to property

It stands to reason that for a company to survive and maintain the ability to employ staff that it needs to be a profitable concern. Because injuries and fatalities negatively impact a business financially, it makes perfect sense to put safety first to safeguard the business against financial losses and damage to property.

The benefits of safety first

By putting safety first and implementing the necessary Occupational Health and Safety training interventions numerous benefits ensue that positively impact both employers and employees that include:
• Increase in productivity levels
• Improved quality of products and services
• Enhanced business reputation

In a nutshell, no one wants to do business with a company that compromises the safety of its employees for the sake of the bottom line. Putting safety first therefore equates to a healthy company reputation.

Reference source: South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (SAIOSH)

Helen Fenton: Senior Analyst, Business Optimization Training Institute (BOTi) -

Author's Bio: 

Business Optimization Training Institute (BOTI) is a Johannesburg based, Level 1 BBBEE business. As a Services and MICT SETA accredited company, we have trained thousands of individuals from over 650 companies and our extensive course offering consists of Short Courses, Soft Skills Training and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Learnership Programs. In addition, we offer bespoke training programs designed to cater to specific business needs. Our training courses are focused on knowledge and skills transfer and we pride ourselves in being able to provide training anytime, anywhere across South Africa.