Department of Labour uncovers shocking bio-hazard lapses at public health facilities

Inspections carried out by the Department of Labour at public health care sector facilities have uncovered shocking non-compliance when it comes workplace safety and hazardous biological agents‚ senior department officials said on Tuesday.

“No country can afford deaths or injuries that take place in the workplace and also the burden that this places on a country’s social security system‚” said Tibor Szana‚ Chief Inspector at the Department of Labour.

He was speaking at a Hazardous Biological Agents (HBA) Seminar in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday as the results of inspections conducted in the public health care sector presented gross levels of non-compliance.

Hazardous biological agents are infectious and toxic. 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 them while treating patients suffering from infectious diseases.

Occupational Health and Hygiene Director at the Department of Labour‚ Milly Ruiters‚ presented a comparison of compliance for 2014/2015 and the 2016/2017 inspections in the public health care sector.

In contrast with the Occupational Health and Safety Act which states that employers shall provide and maintain as far as is reasonably practicable a working environment that is safe and without risks‚ the findings in some provinces were damning.

The results of 407 inspections conducted in all nine provinces in the public health care sector in 2014/2015‚ showed that only 91 facilities complied while 316 did not comply. This showed that the compliance level for hazardous biological agents stood at just 22%.

In 2014/2015‚ the worst performing provinces included the Eastern Cape at 18%‚ Gauteng Province at 9% and Limpopo at a shocking zero%. “This resulted in some facilities being closed down as a result of the outcome of inspections conducted. Many of the severe cases were found in clinics in rural areas in particular‚” said the department.

In 2016 another inspection was conducted. The Eastern Cape improved to 67% but Gauteng Province and Limpopo continued on their downward trend and noncompliance at zero% respectively. Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal also decreased their compliance level.

Ruiters said some of the reasons included no risk assessments being done‚ employees not inducted and trained on sources of exposure‚ medical surveillance not conducted and carried out in accordance with HBA regulations and personal protective equipment not being provided.

A major concern was that health care risk waste contractors were not inducted and trained on hazardous biological agents‚ there were no separate lockers or storage facilities for protective clothing; no change rooms‚ medical surveillance reports were not available and inadequate means of ventilation. Some facilities did not even have natural ventilation.

Ruiters said that the health care sector now had to prepare a written policy to protect the health and safety of employees.

“The due date for this process is April 2017 where Labour inspectors will visit health care establishments to ensure compliance with the directive of the Chief Inspector‚” she said.



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