Numsa demonstrated that health and safety is a union issue when it implemented one of its outstanding resolutions: a full-time official who will address health and safety questions in the industries in which we operate.
The implementing and strengthening of the resolution is indeed a sign that Numsa is not an armchair trade union.
Mpumalanga (MP) was selected as the region to pilot the health and safety project. It celebrates and ululates the appointment of Samuel Lukhuleni, the newly appointed health and safety co-ordinator.
In an interview, Lukhuleni demonstrated that there is a mammoth task ahead of Numsa in dealing with the challenge of improving working conditions and sustaining a safe and pollution-free environment for workers and the working class.
Can you tell me what your position entails?
My duty in the main is to ensure that health and safety issue should be prioritised in workplaces.
This is no longer an issue of the employers alone; it is also a trade union issue. We need to explain the obligations of the employer and employee at the workplace.
Why has MP been targetted?
This has been piloted in Mpumalanga because of the alarming rate of injuries and fatalities in the region.
However there is also a dire need to expand this work to other regions.
What challenges are you confronted with?
The serious challenge is that the employer and workers are not reporting incidents that happen in the workplace.
We understand that they are reluctant to report injuries in order to secure their incentive bonuses. There is no data on the injuries or fatalities.
There is no programme of inspection by the Department of Labour; inspections are made on an ad hoc basis.
Health and safety representatives are not fully trained by their employer; employers approach the issue of health and safety narrowly.
They operate like liaison officers; their presence is not felt at the workplace. Furthermore, in the event injuries occur in the workplace, the investigation moves at a snail’s pace for no apparent reasons.
How do you intend to deal with the above challenges?
To begin with, health and safety is a trade union issue, so we need to raise awareness to workers at the level of the workplace.
We must ensure that the health and safety representative established in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (OHS Act), is fully trained.
We need to have regular meetings with the Department of Labour official who deals specifically with health and safety matters.
We also need to engage with the employers on a regular basis, together with community organisations, as this also affects the community.
Furthermore, we need to embark on a health and safety campaign, to mobilise society as a whole.
Why do we need to work with communities?
In the eMalahleni area most of the companies manufacture steel; others use chemicals, so the environment is heavily polluted.
In the long run, this will have a direct bearing on the life of the inhabitants. In this instance, the environmental department and NGOs that champion the environment should be involved.
It is not only injuries and fatalities that affect workers.
There is also the question of occupational diseases and the measures that can be taken to prevent them.
Nkhangweni wa Masutha is a Numsa official in the Mpumalanga regional office
Numsa News No 1, April 2012