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Career focus - health and safety officer

By Gabrielle Venter - sacareerfocus | 2012-01-24 08:44:08.0

LAURENCE Mohlala, 31, has been an environmental health and safety officer for more than four years at Lanseria International Airport in Gauteng.

Mohlala's dream of becoming a doctor was cut short due to financial strains. At an open-day, one student adviser told him: "Instead of becoming a doctor, why don't you become a preventative doctor - become an environmental health and safety officer." Thus his current job was born.

"After my studies, I worked at Lanseria as a porter, then as a fireman after which I got my qualifications and was appointed the airport's environmental health and safety officer."

Still, the dream of being a doctor is something he will always cherish.

"I would have loved to be a doctor, but I can see my efforts at the airport are worthwhile and that makes me happy," Mohlala says.


An environmental health and safety officer is someone who actively inspects and prevents health hazards by implementing a set of industry codes at a particular workplace or suburb. Often, environmental health officers work for municipalities.

Mohlala says in the government sector, you can earn between R79000 and R99000 a year , but in the private sector, environmental officers earn more.

Job description

Hangar inspection includes three phases and Mohlala does this on a daily.

  • Fire prevention: check fire extinguishers - if they are relevant to the type of operation and if they need a service.
  • Health and safety: ensure that the First Aid kits are placed in the correct area, are stocked and that whoever is responsible for them are qualified to use them.
  • Environmental management: Mohlala also checks that tenants at the airport behave responsibly with regard to waste disposal. They work with flammable liquids and hazardous materials and he has to ensure that their disposal is done in the correct manner.

He also controls the foreign object debris bins at the airport. All "foreign" objects for aircrafts have to be placed in these bins. Screws, nuts, and so on at maintenance facilities lie around and it is extremely dangerous should one get into an engine of an aircraft.

Pros and cons

"I love the educational aspect of my job. People do not always understand the impact their actions have on the environment. I have to explain this to them in detail."

There are also cons.

"It is required that companies have an environmental health and safety officer, but most companies still see it as an expense and not the added value it brings to the company," he says.

As a qualified firefighter, Mohlala also has to ensure that the emergency services department has the correct protective clothing.

If there is an aircraft crash and there is biological hazard or dangerous goods like radio-active material on board an aircraft, he has to advise firefighters what to do and where they have to be positioned.

Required studies or experience

Mohlala studied at the Technikon Northern Gauteng for a national diploma in environmental health. Different diplomas, certificates and degrees are available from various institutions in South Africa. Experience is gained in the field . Most people start off as safety representatives and then move into the specialised area of environmental health and safety.

Personality type

You have to be patient, especially if you are telling people that they are disposing of their waste incorrectly.

You also have to love your job and be observant, with an investigative instinct.

For example, if there is an accident, you must ask questions such as: why it happened, could it have been prevented - questions that are not always nice to answer.

An average day

Mohlala works from 8am to 4.30pm. In the morning, as he is part of the emergency services department, he will join in with the normal chores of a fireman.

This will include training and lectures in the fire department.

"In the afternoon, I do my rounds," Mohlala says.

Best thing about the job

I get to help people and work with people all the time.

Worst thing about the job

The fact that people don't always see the necessity of what you do. Also, sometimes the hours are long.