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Workplace safety as a fundamental human right

By Mikaeel Moti, Executive Director of the Moti Group

by Tia

As South Africa commemorates Human Rights Day, it’s crucial not to overlook the fundamental right to safe working conditions. Every worker has the inherent right to a work environment that does not pose a risk to their health and safety, as recognised in the country’s constitution, and practised by management teams and employees in companies across every sector of the South African economy daily.

Industry leaders recognise the importance of health and safety in the workplace as a fundamental human right and understand that a dedicated workforce is the bedrock of a burgeoning economy. Thus, it is not only a moral imperative but also good business sense that leaders strive to improve workplace safety wherever possible.

Advanced health and safety standards have a positive, measurable impact on the cost of production and profitability. They ensure that fewer production stoppages, which may lead to expensive periods of downtime, occur while mitigating accidents, which may result in high medical or repair costs. This protects the workers, the workplace, and the company’s bottom line.

Take the Moti Group’s Kilken Platinum retreatment plant in Limpopo as an example: by implementing a mixture of both traditional and more advanced safety structures, and actively adapting protocols in response to changing circumstances, the Moti Group has achieved over one million / 990,000 lost time injury free hours during the facility’s 19 years of operations. This has ensured that the plant continues to function at a high capacity, significantly improving profitability.

We have achieved this by emphasising our employees’ basic human right to safe working conditions through consistent risk analysis and prevention protocols. Regardless of industry, other companies can substantially benefit from implementing similar structures into their operations.

Introducing human rights due diligence systems

Implementing human rights due diligence protocols that allow managers and employees to identify workplace risks and develop proactive and reactive plans to correct them is a highly effective and inexpensive method of ensuring a safe and healthy environment for workers.

For one, businesses should have a safety and health policy in place that is informed by legal requirements set out by, for example, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of South Africa (OSHA), which requires employers to provide a safe work environment, but also places certain responsibilities in the workers’ hands.

Furthermore, a human rights due diligence protocol that emphasises workplace health and safety should also consider employees’ mental wellbeing, ensuring that measures are put in place to support those who may be experiencing stress or other psychological challenges.

Training programmes can be instituted to provide employees with the knowledge and skills required to recognise workplace hazards, respond correctly to risks, and ensure the wellbeing of their colleagues.

Integrating due diligence into business practices

Companies in every industry can take a few simple steps to introduce a human rights due diligence system into their daily operations. The first would be to establish a cross-functional team with representatives from various departments, such as HR, legal, operations, and management, to oversee the programme.

The team should then draft a policy outlining the company’s commitment to human rights, referencing local and international standards and laws. This policy would also help the team formulate and conduct a risk assessment to identify the areas where the company’s operations may impact employee’s human rights.

It is important to continually engage with employees, community members, and other stakeholders who may be impacted by changes brought about by this new system to ensure that they are involved and committed and to empower them to implement these protocols into their daily work. This may require additional training.

Finally, it would be beneficial to introduce a feedback or complaint mechanism whereby employees can report on the programme’s effectiveness and notify management of potential hazards in the workplace.

Robust health and safety standards ultimately reinforce a positive, productive work environment, benefiting workers and the company’s bottom lines. So, although implementing additional measures may require extra effort and funding, it’s worth it in the long run.

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