Investing in health and safety training and certification helps prevent injuries in the workplace and saves companies money in the long run. There are numerous courses available.

An estimated 2,2-million fatal workplace accidents occur globally every year, of which 2 643 occur in South Africa. Workplace injuries can lead to expensive health and legal expenses. By ensuring that employees and occupational health and safety (OHS) officers are trained in the necessary procedures, companies can reduce workplace injuries or fatalities and all the associated costs.

Alta Kruger, occupational health diploma training and quality manager at Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA), notes: “If employees are not trained in the basic principles of health and safety and protecting the environment, as well as on how to protect themselves and fellow workers, companies are likely to pay the price in terms of accidents and injuries.”

Workplace incidents often result in litigation costs, compensation payments, hospital bills, medical expenses and fines. However, the indirect costs of a workplace injury can often have a greater impact on company finances and include loss of productivity, worker replacement and increased insurance premiums. Fatal workplace injuries can also lead to damage to the company’s reputation and a loss of business.

When providing the appropriate training, companies also benefit by being OHS compliant, boosting productivity and saving money. A study by Lockheed Martin of the company’s Paducah plant revealed that employee productivity increased by 24 percent after the implementation of safety procedures. The factory costs also decreased by 20 percent following the changes.

In a survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance, around 40 percent of chief financial officers cited productivity as a top benefit of effective workplace safety programmes. With a safer environment, employees are less likely to visit hospitals for workplace injuries or take sick leave. Investing in the safety of employees also helps to build loyalty.

There are numerous training courses that can help OHS officers to further their careers and provide a safer workplace for employees. By far the most important training and certification is a health and safety diploma or certificate.

It is important for an OHS qualification to cover some of the basic responsibilities of the OHS officer in the workplace including managing health and safety programmes or incentives, building knowledge of the OHS Act, legislation and standards, performing inspections and investigating incidents.

OHS officers might also need additional training regarding health and safety in their specific industry. The National Occupational Safety Association (Nosa) offers specific health and safety courses for the agricultural sector and the mining industry.

OHS officers can also be trained in health and safety for specific applications. Nosa offers training for working at heights including fall-arrest rescue. Employees who use fall-arrest systems should also receive this (or similar) training.

After undergoing basic training and certification, OHS officers can expand their knowledge and skills by taking courses that are not necessarily directly related to their day-to-day duties.

For example, every company needs at least one fire marshal for every 50 employees. OHS officers can take on this responsibility by getting basic fire and emergency training. They can also appoint an employee to act as a fire marshal. Ideally, a company should have multiple fire marshals in case one is ill or on leave.

OHS officers and other employees should also be trained in basic first aid to assist when an incident occurs in the workplace. There are various types of first-aid training offered by St John South Africa.

“First aid is emergency help given to an injured person or someone who suddenly becomes ill. It can be as simple as removing a splinter from a child’s finger and applying a plaster, to something more complicated like giving care to many casualties at the scene of a motor-vehicle accident.  The aim of first aid is to preserve life, prevent further illness or injury and promote recovery,” the organisation notes. For more information see page 80.

It is important for OHS officers to continue learning in order to remain up to date on changes to legislation, standards and practices. To help stay abreast of changes, OHS officers can join a professional body.

With the correct qualifications and work experience, OHS officers can join Saoish, for example, and establish themselves as a professional in the field. They can also further their career growth by accessing important information on best practice regarding occupational health and safety.

Companies that support their OHS officers to improve their skills and knowledge will reap the rewards of a safer workplace and more motivated staff.

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