From the Editor

Editors Pages

Gill Nelson, Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to a new year and a new look for Occupational Health Southern Africa. We decided to give the Journal a facelift in 2018, to align it with international scientific journals. From this year, we will list the contents on the back cover, together with full citations of the scientific papers. At a glance, you will be able to see the titles of the papers and other articles in each issue, together with the names of the authors. More subtle is the change in page numbering. Whereas in the past, every issue started at page 1, the page numbering of each issue in a year will now continue from the last page of the preceding issue. In addition, each scientific paper will now be clearly identified as having been peer reviewed or not.

In this, the first issue of 2018, we are pleased to be publishing a paper on a growing problem in our communities, including the workplace – that of substance abuse. As part of her PhD, Margot Sennett Freedman has written a ‘back to basics’ paper on this topic, and provides a comprehensive overview of substance abuse disorder, as well as ways in which the occupational health practitioner can address the problem at an individual level. While the effects of substance abuse in the workplace can be predicted (e.g. impaired judgement which can lead to accidents, poor job performance, and absenteeism), it is important to remember that the workplace might, in turn, affect the use of substances, legal or illegal. The influence of precarious work conditions on drug abuse, and the use of psycho-active drugs as a coping strategy for stress were recently described by researchers in Brazil, from an integrative review of the literature.1

The second paper, by Olivier and colleagues from the University of the Free State, describes a study of the use of temporary incapacity leave by a group of nurses in the public health sector, in response to lower back pain. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are particularly common in nurses (worldwide) due to the nature of their work which frequently involves lifting, pushing and pulling heavy objects. Numerous studies have shown that healthcare workers, especially nurses, are prone to MSDs, at a much higher rate than other occupations. Perhaps it is time to introduce preventive measures to address the problem. In 2016, Rutkowski and Veleez, from the US, designed a programme to reduce MSDs in nursing students.2 The programme provides educational modules for inclusion in the nursing curricula, and examples of interventions for the prevention of MSDs. As the tasks assigned to nurses are unlikely to become less physically demanding, prevention (a guiding principle in occupational health), targeting behaviour and body mechanics, is paramount.

David Stanton continues his historical series on occupational health litigation, addressing in his current paper the Atlantic slave trade, with regard to gold and silver mining. Previous papers in the series have dealt with slavery in ancient times, and gold mining and the north Atlantic slave trade; all are available on the website. Please remember that all published papers become freely available at, six months after publication, in line with our open access policy.

We also feature a summary of findings from autopsies on mine workers, performed for the diagnosis of compensable occupational lung diseases, in 2016. The reports are released annually by the Pathology Division of the National Institute for Occupational Health.

As usual, the ‘society pages’ are full of interesting news and information, relevant to all members, but also well worth reading by non-members. I encourage you to engage with the associations of which you are not members, as they are all involved in aspects of occupational health that can potentially enhance our integrated knowledge and experience, making us better (or, at least, more knowledgeable) practitioners. 

I wish you a productive and fulfilling 2018, and look forward to your contributions to Occupational Health Southern Africa during the course of the year.



1. De Fatima Fernandes MN, Da Silva Gherardi-Donato EC. Is work-place stress a trigger for alcohol and drug abuse? Open J Nurs. 2017; 7:435-448.

2. Rutkowski EM, Velez A. A program to reduce musculoskeletal disorders and promote health in nursing students. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice. 2016; 6(10):88-92.

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