The Department of Employment and Labour has officially unveiled an Occupational Health and Hygiene laboratory as part of exploring new ways of conducting inspections and equipping the inspectorate to adopt a scientific approach to their work.

The laboratory, unveiled by the Chief Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) on Monday (25 March), is the first of its kind for the department and is located on the ground floor of the department’s head office in Laboria House, Pretoria.

The department’s Chief Inspector, Milly Ruiters, said the laboratory is part of a drive by the Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES) branch to professionalise the work of the inspectorate and will be replicated in all provinces.

“The purpose of the laboratory is multifaceted in that it will be used as a training facility in the field of occupational hygiene to prepare and provide technical support for OHS inspectors.

“Furthermore, this laboratory will also be used to support practical exposure for inspectors who wish to prepare themselves for professional certification in the field of occupational hygiene,” Ruiters said.

The laboratory will also be used to support inspectors’ exposure monitoring in high-profile inspections and investigations.

The facility is equipped with equipment capable of monitoring several occupational stressors (factors in the workplace that cause stress to employees), including noise, hazardous chemical agents, illumination, indoor air quality, and airflow.

Ruiters said the department has 700 OHS inspectors, and the bulk of them specialise in occupational health and hygiene (OHH).

“We previously had OHS inspectors focused mainly on engineering. We are branching into other areas of OHH. This is a milestone for us.

“A lot of employers are not complying with OHH. With this facility, we will empower our inspectors to go and do spot checks, and they will no longer be second-guessing,” she said.

Ruiters said the department views the laboratory launch as part of its capacity building and developing a cohort of specialists.

“We want to proactively prevent injuries and diseases. We are preparing to prevent rather than investigate incidents.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), work-related stress can be caused by poor work organisation; poor work design (lack of control over work processes); poor management; unsatisfactory working conditions, and lack of support from colleagues and supervisors.

The department’s IES branch Inspector General, Aggy Moiloa, said the unveiling of the laboratory is the start of “something big” that is coming and a legacy the branch wants to leave behind.

“While this is a humble beginning, it is a giant step,” Moiloa said.

Department of Employment and Labour Senior Specialist: OHH, Bulelwa Huna, said the launch of the facility has been a long journey, which started in 2018 in partnership with the department’s stakeholders.

Huna warned that occupational hazards are silent killers.

“As a department, we will not accept the proposition that injury and death go with the job. When we talk about creating decent work, we cannot leave out OHH.

“We want to support inspectors when making decisions. We want to develop technical data that supports reports. The facility will also make our inspectors comfortable using the instruments,” Huna said.

The department has spent R956,000 to set up the facility, and the OHH Directorate will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the laboratory.

The department emphasised that the lab is not replacing the work of existing authorities. The Compensation Fund, an entity of the department, is expected to be one of the beneficiaries of the lab work.



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