The Department of Labour has launched new ergonomic regulations which aim to prevent occupational diseases and injuries relating to ergonomic hazards in South African workplaces.
Ergonomics is the study of how humans interact with man-made objects. The goal of ergonomics is to create an environment that is well-suited to a user’s physical needs – which subsequently affects things like morale and performance, and reduces chances of injury or harm.
South Africa’s new regulations around this concept will require employers to implement a programme to control the exposure of employees – and other people affected by their actions – to ergonomic hazards.
The department’s definition of ergonomic risks is quite broad, saying it is “a characteristic or action in the workplace, work place conditions, or a combination thereof that may impair overall system performance and human well-being”.
Some ergonomic risks in the workplace that have been identified by safety regulation specialists include:
- Heavy lifting;
- Repetitive, strenuous or awkward movements;
- Improperly adjusted workstations and chairs;
- Driving for long periods without break.
According to Labour minister Thulas Nxesi, the new regulations are not a stand-alone programme, but rather another aspect to be incorporated into the employer’s already existing health and safety programmes.
“The regulations also place duties on designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers. This aims to eliminate, or reduce, ergonomic hazards in the early stages of designing systems and equipment, rather than trying to find a solution once there is a final product,” he said.
Department of Employment and Labour chief inspector Tibor Szana said most of the accidents in the world of work were caused by failure to adhere to ergonomics.
Szana said the department has in partnership with Rhodes University trained a team of 30 inspectors to enforce the regulations.
Who do the regulations apply to?
The regulations – which were promulgated in December 2019 – are intended to act as a guide to all employers, employees and the public, who are concerned with the control and prevention of exposure to ergonomic risks in the workplace.
The Department of Labour said that the regulations will apply to any employer or self-employed person who carries out work at a workplace, which may expose any person to ergonomic risks in that workplace; and a designer, manufacturer, importer or supplier of machinery, plant or work systems for use at a workplace.
“They entail details regarding the instruction and training; the duties of persons who may be at risk of exposure to ergonomic risks; duties of designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers; ergonomic risk assessment; risk control; maintenance of controls; medical surveillance; the keeping of records; offences and penalties for failure to comply,” it said.
Nxesi said South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to introduce this kind of regulation and to champion the thinking that lies behind it.
“With the development and promulgation of the new Regulations, South Africa has become one of the leading countries to regulate ergonomics and reduce ergonomic hazards in the workplace,” he said.
“We can be proud of this. These regulations are in everyone’s interests – improving working conditions as well as performance.”
The regulations states that an employer must, before the commencement of any work that may expose employees to ergonomic risks, have an ergonomic risk assessment performed by a competent person.
This risk assessment must be completed every two years and must include:
- A complete hazard identification;
- The identification of all persons who may be affected by the ergonomic risks;
- How employees may be affected by the ergonomic risks;
- The analysis and evaluation of the ergonomic risks;
- The prioritisation of ergonomic risks.