The Future of Health & Safety as a profession in South Africa

The Health and Safety profession in South Africa started in 1971 with the formation of the first professional association for the discipline. The Chartered Institute of Industrial Safety Engineers (CHIISE), was the first entity to promote the profession. Under the previous Factories, Machinery And Building Works Act, 1941, these professionals offered a valuable service to companies to ensure legal compliance.

In 1983, the former Department of Manpower introduced the concept of self-regulation with the proclamation of the Machinery and Occupational Safety Act, 1983. This introduced a few consolidated regulations taken from the old act, and introduced a few new regulations between 1989 and 2003, when the Act changed again.

The latest Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1994 commenced on 1  January of that year, shortly preceding the first democratic elections in South Africa. With this came a new set of rules to include occupational health in the compliance sphere. But in the same sense, it created a new brand of practitioner.

Mostly equipped with the knowledge coming from the former era, the Health & Safety practitioner is not a medical practitioner, nor an engineering practitioner, but a general administrator of a management system designed to ensure compliance with the H&S Legal framework.

Today, more than 20 years later, the move towards professionalisation is reversing the process back to normal, with specialists being shaped to serve specific industries. The first one, in a series of many still to come, is the newly dubbed Construction Health and Safety practitioner, introduced by the amendment of the 2003 Construction Regulations in 2014. This new discpline is not a specialist in terms of subject matter, but a generalist in a specific industry; Construction. Although allowed to practice at certian levels based on construction experience, i.e.: Agent, Manager and Officer level, the skills required to enter this profession is as diverse as the services sector itself.

Many professionals have objected, whilst the more specialist professional, such as the Occupational Health, Civil Engineering and Architecural profession, who are also allowed to enter Construction H&S, have remained quitely waiting for the bubble to burst.

Until recently, the registration process for CHS was well established at a snail’s pace and a few fortunate persons were making a financial killing as the demand for “registered” persons soared to serve the struggling Construction Sector.

According to the latest developments, with the Competition Commission rejecting the application of six professional councils in the Construction industry to reserve work only for registered persons, were rejected.

This lifted a vail of secrecy over the future of Construction Health & Safety as none of the authorities have shed any light on the “What now?” question on every practitioners lips.

Requests for advice are streaming in from online forums, and the daunting task to provide adequate professional advice has become dangerous territory.

In conclusion the Cygma Group has opted to not enforce the employer requirement to appoint “registered only” persons as it is clearly not transparent and lacks legal credibility.

The Cygma Group’s Professional Services includes Cygma SHEQ South Africa (Pty)Ltd and due to its specialist structure does not fall under the Health & Safety sub-sector.

Our specialist divisions related to Health and Safety are Cygma SHEQ Safety Engineering and Cygma SHEQ Health & Hygiene. Each focusing on Engineering and Health respectively.

Are the profession defragmenting?

It would be the ideal world when each of the four SHEQ disciplines splits, but current factors such as the poor economy, globally accepted “multi-purpose” employment and the demand for lower cost services will leave room for the generalist systems administrators.

The future of Health & Safety as a “profession” will remain well in the medium term, but one could expect specialists developing from the general pool of available candidates. Often referred to as a tick-box exercise, Health and Safety will however not reach the top eschalons of professionals like engineers, doctors and lawyers; where many of the latter are providing high-end services to corporate companies.

The spin-off from the advice of these high-end consultants normally creates more opportunties for the Health & Safety practitioner.

Advice to employers

The law is dynamic and every court case brings about changes in the interpretation thereof. Whilst having a system to manage Health & Safety, however simple or complex you create it, the ultimate test of its durability lies not in an audit, but in a prosecution.

Planning your H&S Management system is paramount to your business’ sustainability.

Integrating H&S into all functional units are more effective in cost-reduction, than having a single functional unit for H&S as a stand-alone department.

Evaluate the role of your HR, Technical and Supply Chain Managers in making integration possible.

Legal liability for health and safety extends far beyond the general perception of plan, do, check, (act) – sometimes totally omitted.

Consult a professional service provider with required background in law and your industry to guide you.

After-all, health & safety compliance is a legal matter too. Find your legal, financial and operations risks, when it comes to health & safety.

Don’t be fooled into believing that having a H&S Officer / Manager in your company makes you “bullet proof”.

See also the “Role of the Professional Consultant” post.