Have you paid proper attention to health and safety in the workplace? Or do you view occupational health and safety (OHS) as nothing more than a tiresome company procedure involving fire drills and dull workshops? Whatever your opinion of OHS, the well-being of employees is the single most important aspect of any organisation, and careers in the industry are in high demand.

On 28 April, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) will celebrate the 2017 World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Now is the perfect time to better your understanding of this vital field.  

Why is occupational health and safety important?

According to the ILO, a staggering 2 million men and women lose their lives every year through accidents and diseases linked to their work. Add to this around 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases, and the importance of proper health and safety starts becoming clearer.

Under South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, which “provides for the health and safety of people at work”, employers must adhere to various health and safety laws, and they have to implement relevant health and safety procedures. Apart from this, failure to pay attention to OHS can have devastating consequences for companies, including:

  • Millions of rands lost through missed work time and expenses associated with treatment, compensation and rehabilitation.
  • Closure of business operations if the company doesn’t pass health and safety inspections.
  • Damage to office premises through incidents such as fires or building collapses.
  • Emotional damage to employees if there is an injury or death of a co-worker in the workplace.

Considering all of the above, the people who monitor and enforce a company’s OHS regulations carry huge responsibility.

What is the focus on this year?

This year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work is being held under the theme “Optimize the Collection and Use of OSH Data”.

There is currently a critical need for countries to improve the way they collect and use data relating to workplace health and safety. Reliable data is crucial for determining how well OHS is being enforced, how far-reaching its impact is and how it can be improved. This data is extremely valuable in the detection of new hazards and hazardous work sectors, development of preventative measures and implementation of OHS programmes.

The need to improve OHS data collection is no more pressing than in South Africa. As one of the UN’s 193 member states, South Africa is required to establish tools for this purpose, but often lags behind more developed countries. The increasing need for data collection has opened up new avenues for those interested in a career in OHS.

Working in OHS

While an OHS worker’s duties may vary from one job role to another, the main responsibility will be to help ensure the safety of those present in the workplace, and to help reduce the risk of workplace accidents. Here are examples of tasks that an OHS worker will commonly be required to perform:


  • Developing and implementing health and safety policies.
  • Outlining safe operational procedures.
  • Promoting employee health and productivity.
  • Assessing and managing risk in the context of occupational health and safety.
  • Performing site inspections and safety audits.
  • Investigating workplace accidents and safety-related complaints.
  • Producing health and safety reports.
  • Conducting in-house occupational health and safety training.
  • Staying up to date with new developments in health and safety legislation.
  • Analysing OHS data and using the findings to improve OHS measures in the workplace.


To find out more about how you can make a difference in the workplace with a career in occupational health and safety, click here.