Hazardous Biological Agents (HBAs) advocacy sessions

The Department of Labour (DoL) is mandated to improve occupational health and safety in all sectors regulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Act No 85 of 1993. Among its many duties is the need to advocate, inspect and enforce the legislation in an effort to prevent occupational diseases, including those caused by exposure to hazardous biological agents (HBAs).

During the 2013/14 financial year, blitz inspections were implemented at numerous health care facilities in all the provinces. The aims of the inspections were to determine the facilities levels of compliance in terms of occupational health and safety, while focusing on HBAs. Four hundred and seven (407) institutions were inspected, of which only 91 were found to be compliant with the HBAs regulations; 316 were not. The national compliance level in terms of HBA regulations in the blitz was 22%.

The main areas of non-compliance were:

• Risk assessments for HBAs were not conducted

• Medical surveillance and biological monitoring of employees exposed to HBAs were not conducted

• Health and safety representatives were not trained on the challenges of HBAs exposure

• Policies on infection control and cross contamination were not adhered to

As a result of the low level of compliance, the DoL embarked on a campaign to conduct advocacy sessions consisting of workshops and seminars. Three sessions were conducted, as follows: the first event on 25 and 26 September 2015 in Bela-Bela, Limpopo Province; the second on 10 and 12 November 2015 in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal Province; and the third on 31 March 2016 for the management of Gauteng public health hospitals, in Pretoria. As a result of the HBA seminar in KwaZulu-Natal, the DoL received requests to conduct advocacy sessions at four hospitals in the province. Hospital management, employee representatives and health and safety representatives attended the sessions.

The purpose of the advocacy sessions was to provide feedback to stakeholders regarding the inspections conducted and the levels of non-compliance identified in the healthcare establishments in terms of the HBAs Regulations.

The following topics were covered during these advocacy sessions:

• Risk assessment documents that are not in line with the requirements set out in the Regulations

• Chief executive officer’s dele-gations in terms of the OHS Act

• Failure to appoint health and safety representatives in terms of the OHS Act

• Provision of information and training for employees, especially on the HBAs

• Medical surveillance to be conducted for employees starting or leaving employment, and during their course of employment

• Suitable personal protective equipment not provided to employees

• Maintenance records for engineering equipment installed for the control of exposure to HBAs

• Policy requirements published in a gazette by the DoL

The low level of compliance by the health sector compelled the Chief Inspector to instruct the health sector to develop a OHS policy in terms of section 7 of the OHS Act. The notice was published in the Government Gazette on 14 August 2015 and will come into effect 12 months after the date of publication of the notice.

Commitment to the following outcomes was made during the advocacy sessions:

• To strengthen the relationships between all stakeholders

• To conduct advocacy sessions on HBAs nationally

• DoL inspectors to conduct follow up inspections on the notices served

• The Minister of Labour to inform the Minister of Health about the OHS policy that needs to be implemented by the health sector

• Information-sharing session held with the Head of the Department of Health on the OHS policy that needs to be implemented in August 2017

 

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