Perhaps the title of this blog is a little misleading. We are not saying that the following are unsafe actions unique to South Africa – rather, these are some of the most glaring and unsafe trends that occur (and recur) in the country. Along with highlighting them, we offer some tips on how to ensure you (and your employees/colleagues) are not guilty of perpetuating them.
- Dealing incorrectly with harassment in the workplace
Office harassment, both of a sexual nature and in the form of bullying, is alarmingly common in the workplace. While there is legislation in place to deal with such situations, these are not effectively and consistently applied in every company countrywide. Many victims find themselves brushing off incidents; some even reluctantly allow them to continue just to keep their jobs, and often don’t report the matter.
To make sure you and your company are dealing with such incidents correctly, ensure your employees are aware of the following steps they can take to feel safe and secure in their office environment:
- Talk to the harasser directly.
- Find other victims and witnesses.
- Inform your supervisor.
- Contact your HR manager.
- Contact senior manager.
- Contact the CCMA.
- File a lawsuit.
- Inadequately addressing health and safety risks to children
Child mortality declined significantly in the 1990s, but environmental hazards still kill at least three million children under the age of five every year worldwide. After 1994, when South Africa stepped out of isolation and adopted a new, democratic constitution, part of its new legislation included protecting the rights and safety of learners. However, since then, shocking newspaper headlines highlight the stark contrast of this new legislation with the reality of what is happening in our schools:
- ‘Horror school shooting with police service pistol of 14-year old at a Pretoria private school.’ (Sowetan).
- ‘Schools sliding into anarchy ... drugs, firearms and other dangerous weapons and rapes, robberies and corruption are plaguing schools like cancer ...’ (Daily News, Bisetty, Krisendra).
- ‘…a 13-year-old boy stands accused with five Grade 3 learners … of raping an eight-year-old girl in a classroom.’ (The Herald).
- ‘Randy teachers expelled ... 133 cases of misconduct involving teachers in North West.’ (Sowetan).
- ‘Corporal punishment: right versus might. The recent torture of an Mpumalanga schoolboy by a teacher who suspected he had stolen her handbag …’ (The Star).
- ‘One in three children will be sexually abused before they turn 18. This stark statistic was provided [by] the Department of Education ...’ (The Star, Govender, Peroshni).
How to ensure your children’s/learners’ school is safe
A safe school is
- free of danger, where there is an absence of possible harm
- a place in which non-educators, educators and learners may work, teach and learn without fear of ridicule, intimidation, harassment, humiliation, or violence
- a healthy school that it is physically and psychologically safe
- one that includes certain physical features, such as secure walls, fencing and gates; buildings that are in a good state of repair; and well-maintained school grounds
- characterised by good discipline, a culture conducive to teaching and learning, professional educator conduct, good governance and management practices, and an absence (or low level) of crime and violence.
- Abusing substances while on the job
The issue of substance abuse in the workplace has always been met dismissively, and swept under the carpet. However, when all incidents at work are accessed collectively, you will see how important it is for your company to see it as a great concern. According to studies conducted on the abuse of alcohol and drugs in the workplace, by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the following was found:
- Absenteeism of employees with alcohol and drug problems was three times higher than for other employees.
- Employees with chemical dependence problems claimed sick benefits three times more than other employees and also made compensation claims five times more than other employees.
- Twenty percent to 25% of injuries in the workplace involved employees under the influence of alcohol.
- Drugs and alcohol supplied at work amounts to 15% to 30% of all accidents at work.
How to prevent and control substance abuse in the workplace
- Implement measures to control substance abuse through good employment practices (i.e. is your alcohol and drug policy up to scratch?).
- Proper restriction of alcohol, legal and illegal drugs in the workplace.
- Prevention through information, education and training programmes.
- Identify employees with substance abuse problems.
- Assistance, treatment and rehabilitation programmes.
- Intervention and disciplinary procedures.
- Not supporting employees adequately when dealing with high-stress, criminal incidents
It is no secret that South Africa is a country with one of the highest crime rates in the world. It is highly likely that many of your colleagues (or employees) will have suffered from a traumatic incident. Ordinary support systems may not be enough.
Every day, around 50 murders, 100 rapes, 700 burglaries and 500+ violent assaults are officially recorded in a population of more than 50 million. Although the murder figures may be fairly accurate, only around one in ten rapes are thought to be reported to the police. In a recent survey by the Medical Research Council in two provinces, more than one in four men aged 18–49 admitted to having committed at least one rape.
Traumatised employees are more likely to be absent and underperform as a result of their state of mind. You need to have a careful, comprehensive plan in place (possibly as part of any psychosocial wellness or Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) implemented) to help your colleagues/employees work through the event. This includes ensuring they receive proper counselling from a medical professional.
4 simple steps to help someone who has suffered a trauma
Step #1: Learn all you can about their trauma.
Step #2: Challenge your beliefs. Helping someone in trauma takes time, patience, and the understanding that it is very real and can have a serious effect on a person’s life.
Step #3: Explore your options. Download trauma assessments, look into therapy for your colleague or ask someone else who is dealing with a similar situation for advice.
Step #4: Reach out by talking to your colleague or by raising awareness about their issue.
- World class safety legislation with often poor compliance
Despite South Africa’s well written and comprehensive legislation on creating healthy and safe working environments, Dr Terry Berelowitz, Medical Director for OCSA, believes legislation is often ignored. “Ironically it is the people who fuel this country’s economy – those who work in the high-risk areas of agriculture, transport, factories, construction and mines, who may not be fully protected. On the whole, knowledge of the legislative requirement is sadly lacking and we need more support from the government and the unions to ensure that the codes and practices are applied more vigorously in South Africa.”
The best way to make sure you have covered all your bases is to ensure you keep up with current SHE legislation and make certain your employees are trained properly, regularly, appropriately and adequately to carry out their roles and responsibilities safely.
Proper training is paramount to safety.