It gives me great pleasure to participate in this important event: the launch of the recently promulgated Ergonomics Regulation. By the way, South Africa is one of the first countries in the world to introduce this kind of regulation and to champion the thinking that lies behind it.
The International Ergonomics Association defines the discipline as follows: 'Ergonomics is the scientific discipline of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimise human well-being and overall system performance.'
A science-based system brings together knowledge from anatomy and physiology, psychology, engineering and statistics to ensure that workplace designs complement the strengths and abilities of people, and minimises the effect of their limitations.
Now this is important: … rather than expecting people to adapt to a design which forces them to work in an uncomfortable, stressful or dangerous way, ergonomists seek to understand how a product, workplace or system can be designed to suit the people who need to use it.
You will not notice a well-designed work environment – because it works. A poorly designed workstation becomes apparent very soon – manifesting in poor posture, aches, and pains.
As I said, currently, there are few countries which have promulgated a regulation or legislation specific to addressing ergonomic risks in the workplace – this despite the fact that the International Labour Organization (ILO) and others have published a number of guidelines, codes of practices and standards focusing on ergonomics in the workplace.
Some countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United State of America have Occupational Health and Safety organisations which provide their countries with a lot of information on individual aspects of ergonomics, such as manual handling for a specific sector. However, they do not have a specific regulation addressing ergonomics.
In South Africa, the Minister's Advisory Council for Occupational Health and Safety (ACOHS) gave approval for the Chief Directorate: Occupational Health and Safety to establish a Technical Committee (TC) to develop such a regulation, under Section 43 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act 85 of 1993, as amended. The Technical Committee was comprised of representatives from Organised Business, Organised Labour, Specialists and representatives from Government Departments. The TC began its work in 2014 and completed the Regulation in 2018.
This work, carried out in South Africa, is routinely shared with the wider Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, as well as through inter-government partnership and collaboration with relevant AU organisations.
The South African Ergonomics Regulation has been developed in line with the Constitution of South Africa of 1996 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 85 of 1993, as amended.
The Regulation focus on a programmatic approach in relation to the processes and activities in any given company. This means that the employer must address aspects of ergonomics in relation to what is happening in the company. This may include all three respective domains of ergonomics: physical, cognitive and organisational. The Regulation requires the employer to implement a programme to control the exposure of employees and other people affected by their actions, to ergonomic hazards.
The ergonomics programme is not a stand-alone programme, but rather another aspect to be incorporated into the employer's already existing health and safety programmes. The Regulation also places 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.
As with Section 14 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Regulation also imposes duties and responsibilities on employees, with regard to preventing occupational diseases and injuries relating to exposure to ergonomic hazards.
The Regulation has also given the Chief Inspector the prerogative to establish an Ergonomics Technical Committee, which will discuss and make recommendations to the Chief Inspector on matters relating to ergonomics in South Africa.
As I said earlier, ergonomics is a scientific discipline, which seeks to optimise human well-being and the overall performance of the system. It is aligned and supports Outcome Four of the National Development Plan as well as the Vision of the Department which includes: the improvement of people's well-being and performance, which leads to conditions conducive to investment, economic growth, employment creation and decent work.
Through the improvement of human well-being and performance, the new Regulation will further reduce the number of occupational diseases and injuries related to exposure to ergonomics hazards, thus benefiting employees and their families as well as employers and the state.
With the development and promulgation of the new ergonomics Regulation, South Africa has become one of the leading countries to regulate ergonomics and reduce ergonomic hazards in the workplace. We can be proud of this. And once again, let me stress: these regulations are in everyone's interests – improving working conditions as well as performance.
© 2019 - The South African Department of Employment & Labour