Workers risk losing their limbs and even their lives at work as safety standards are not met and training is poor

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

Most South African companies do not have adequate safety programmes despite the threat of heavy penalties, experts attending a conference said yesterday.

The Afrox yearly Safety in the Workplace conference, which ended yesterday, revealed that employees were staying away from work because of unsafe working conditions and that absenteeism cost the economy R20billion a year.

National Occupational Safety and Health Consultancy administrative manager Jason Meyer said that 10 work-related deaths happened each day in South Africa, adding that 240 fingers and 14 eyes were lost each day in South African businesses.

"Mining is the worst industry in this country, followed by manufacturing, where heavy industrial machinery is used," Meyer said.

"Only 10 percent of injuries are caused by unsafe working areas and two percent by chance accidents. The vast majority, 88 percent, are caused by people being untrained and unaware of correct safety protocol," he said.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act states that all employers must maintain a safe work environment, but Pro Active Risk Management quality consultant Nell Browne said that most companies endangered their employees.

A fine of R50000 and a possible one year jail term is recommended by the act for any injuries that happen on the job and R100000 and two years in prison is the penalty for work related deaths.

At the beginning of this year the Labour Department launched a countrywide health and safety inspection blitz, which started in the Free State town of Heilbron. Out of the 74 places that were visited 41 businesses were found to be in violation of the act.

Meyer said that the inspections would not have much affect on the way companies operated.

"There are thousands of companies in this country and only about 20 inspectors in a given province. The chances of being visited are very low, so most companies won't bother," he said.