Labour inspections find ‘zero’ hospital safety

DOL occupational health and hygiene director, Milly Ruiters.
DOL occupational health and hygiene director, Milly Ruiters.

Occupational hospital safety levels are down to zero in Gauteng and Limpopo provinces, said the Labour Department.

The 2016 Labour inspections found “a continued downward trend”, with compliance levels in both provinces at a shocking zero percent. Eastern Cape public health facilities had improved from 18%, to 67% compliance, but this is also “not good enough.”

Northern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal had also decreased their already low compliance levels, said Tibor Szana, chief inspector of the Department of Labour, at a Hazardous Biological Agents (HBA) Seminar in Port Elizabeth in September 2016.

The results of 407 inspections conducted in all nine provinces in the public health care sector last year, had shown that only 91 facilities complied, and 316 did not comply. The compliance level in HBAs regulation, was only 22%.

Last year, the worst performing provinces included the Eastern Cape, at 18%; Gauteng province at only 9%, and Limpopo already at a shocking zero percent.

This had resulted in some facilities being closed down as a result of the outcome of occupational health and safety inspections. Many of the severe cases were found in clinics in rural areas in particular.

Milly Ruiters, Occupational Health and Hygiene Director at the Department of Labour, presented a comparison of compliance inspection results in the public health care sector.

She told delegates that some of the reasons for noncompliance included;

  • no risk assessment;
  • employees not inducted and trained on sources of exposure, health effects, and control of HBAs;
  • medical surveillance not conducted in accordance with HBA regulations;
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) not provided;
  • no PPE policy;
  • health care risk waste contractors were not inducted or trained on HBAs;
  • no separate lockers or storage facility for protective clothing;
  • no change room;
  • medical surveillance reports not available;
  • inadequate means of ventilation, and some facilities do not even have natural ventilation.
Some health care facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, and old age homes, do not have natural ventilation.
Some health care facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, and old age homes, do not have natural ventilation.

Hospitals must prepare OHS policies for 2017

The DOL Chief Inspector had already directed the heath care sector to prepare an OHS policy, in accordance with Section 7 of the OHS Act.

“Employers already have to prepare a written policy concerning the protection of the health and safety of employees at work, including a description of the organization, and the arrangements for carrying out, and reviewing the policy, within two years from the date of the notice [of 2015].

The due date for this process is April 2017, when Labour inspectors will visit health care establishments to ensure compliance with the directive of the Chief Inspector.

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Other presentations at the seminar included;

  • management of ergonomic risk factors;
  • cross contamination and infection control;
  • risk exposure for health care workers;
  • monitoring and control of the work environment.
Four classes of hazardous biological agents.
Four classes of hazardous biological agents (after Bohs Training).

“No country can afford deaths or injuries at work,” said Szana. According to research, the implementation of occupational health and safety systems and programmes could improve quality and productivity in any sector.

Szana labelled the results of inspections conducted in the public health care sector, as “gross levels of non-compliance”, against the ideal of “zero tolerance”.

The two-day seminar was aimed to engage and capacitate public health care stakeholders on legislation and developments.

Participants of the HBA seminar included shop stewards, occupational health and safety representatives, nurses, and doctors.

HBAs are infectious and toxic, but they can also cause allergic reactions such as hypersensitivity, pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis, some types of asthma, and organic dust toxic syndrome.

In health care institutions, employees are exposed to HBAs by interaction with patients suffering from various infectious diseases.

Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act states that every employer shall provide and maintain as far as is reasonably practicable a working environment that is safe and without risks.