Health and safety continues to have a strong focus in the local mining sector with accidents and illegal activities continuing to be of concern. However, beyond this, how has health and safety expanded into other sectors in the market?

For one, evolving technology has enhanced the ability of the health and safety officer to fulfil their role. There is a strong administrative component in health and safety that can now be linked to productivity solutions and automated to some extent.

But it is not just about technology. Even though HR is involved with health and safety to a limited extent, it is rather a resource to be used. This is especially relevant in terms of participating in a safety committee and often being involved in the safety structure and the provision of protective clothing and the like. However, it is up to each organisation to define to what extent HR is involved in this process.

Even though health and safety, to a certain extent in non-industrial organisations, was viewed as a ‘necessary evil’, this has changed. In South Africa, there is a growing culture of safety awareness. Often, health and safety is paired with quality environmental matters. This results in the appointment of a SHEQ (Safety, Health, Environment, Quality) officer or a SHE (Safety, Health, Environment) officer.

Adding impetus to this is a massive increase in the awareness of environmental issues amongst the younger generations, particularly when it comes to climate change. This has a spinoff in creating a mindfulness in organisations when it comes to health and safety and any associated environmental issues.

After all, employees have a massive influence on practical health and safety. They have a duty to work in a safe manner. If they do not, they may be disciplined. If misconduct in respect of safety matters is of a gross nature, they may be dismissed.

An example in an industrial organisation would be if a machine-minding employee sleeps while the machine runs. This is seen as gross misconduct and often takes place where employees are required to work night shifts. Where employees effectively do their jobs in a safe manner daily, they ensure safety in the workplace. Where they are negligent, they may create a safety hazard.

All told, health and safety will remain integral to the success and growth of any organisation irrespective of size and industry. How it chooses to approach it, remains up to the decision-makers.