By Louise Woodburn, General Manager, KBC Health & Safety
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for fully compliant health, safety, and environment (HSE) policies and procedures in businesses.
This is an unintended positive outcome of the current situation in which the world finds itself. The coronavirus has made companies sit up and take notice and realise that they do not have all the necessary protocols in place for both business continuity, and adequate protection of their employees.
While there is an existing HSE framework which deals with hazardous biological agents such as Covid-19, few companies made this part of their risk mitigation strategies due to the statistical unlikelihood of such an event ever happening.
The pandemic has not only made business aware of this legislation but has also highlighted the need for a proper business plan to deal with it. It therefore stands to reason that if such a plan had been in place prior to Covid-19, the impact and severity of the outbreak may have been less extensive.
If you had a plan in place from the beginning that identified biological agents as a business risk, for example, you would have been properly protected now. It would not have taken so long nor have been such a difficult process to implement a HSE system. Hence, for me, it has been a positive side-effect in that businesses are starting to see the value of HSE and how to properly mitigate all of the risks associated with this.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic and promulgation of the national lockdown at the end of March 2020, the Department of Labour has constantly issued directives and addendums that have allowed HSE service providers like KBC Health & Safety to stay abreast of the latest developments which, in turn, allows them to offer their clients HSE solutions in line with best practice.
As the pandemic has evolved and we have learnt about transmission vectors and mutations, for example, so have the regulations to implement proper HSE protocols been adapted accordingly.
The constant barrage of news about South Africa’s infection and mortality rates due to Covid-19 has also served to make companies aware of the consequences of non-compliance. It has changed the way that businesses are managing HSE and their awareness of the ramifications if they do not get it right. Much more than a productivity issue, we are talking about a human toll here that has been mounting inexorably since the start.
There are two key elements that businesses need to take into consideration. Firstly, proper policies and procedures must be implemented, whether paper-based or electronic, to ensure that companies are protected by, and comply with, the legislative framework. Here we can conduct a legal compliance audit to give it a sense of a particular company’s scope of work and its unique requirements in terms of HSE. This is a good basis from which to align that company with international best practice, which means complying with an internationally-recognised such as ISO 45000.
Secondly, due to the increased documentation and processes resulting from this compliance, companies need a robust Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) management tool in place. Technology can be of great value in, for example, keeping track of all HSE documentation: when it needs to be updated and reviews carried out. HSE is a fast-changing field, and you need to be on top of that. A solution like Passport 360 is a solid management tool in this regard.
A major challenge facing large conglomerates in the mining and industrial space is that they deal with many contractors. These are often smaller businesses that do not have the necessary policies and procedures in place. We need to call on larger businesses to make a concerted effort to ensure that their contractors and sub-contractors are compliant. Show us that you have a robust system in place that you are managing properly and that you are being independently audited, so that we can have confidence that you are managing your HSE and protecting your employees as well as we are ours.
To assist such smaller players, we offer a ‘Virtual Safety Officer’ (VSO). What we are finding is that a lot of contractors, in construction and manufacturing in particular, struggle to afford such a full-time resource. We can then engage with that contractor and offer hours of work as opposed to a full-time service. This is based on their scope of work and the attendant requirements for them to become fully compliant. Not only is this a highly cost-effective option, it also gives such contractors the assurance that they are being proactive instead of reactive in terms of their HSE requirements. Essentially such contractors can avail themselves of our vast expertise and resources.
The ‘new normal’ ushered in by Covid-19 has resulted in us being much smarter in the way we deploy technology. We have been so used to conducting risk assessment on-site, but a lot of the documentation can be completed online instead of needing a face-to-face discussion. Obviously, HSE professionals with the necessary experience and expertise are critical so that they can identify the inherent risks. I have been in the industry for 25 years, for example, and it is this breadth and depth of both knowledge and innovation that continues to us the leading edge.