Occupational health and safety jobs are becoming more crucial in SA

A member of medical staff swabs a resident. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

In 2020, South Africa has faced the double threat of a health and an economic crisis as the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across our nation.

With the economy set to contract by record double-digit percentage points, unemployment at record highs of just over 30%, and the risk of a second wave of the pandemic; there are many challenges ahead.

However, in crises such as these, there are also opportunities. And amid efforts to fight back against Covid-19, there’s been a growing demand for workers in the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) space.

Interestingly, this is a sector that has only been more formalised in South Africa in the last two years with the introduction of the amended Occupational Health and Safety Bill in Parliament.

The updated Bill has sought to align South Africa’s OHS laws with international standards as well as placing stricter requirements on employers to ensure that all employees are protected from risks in the workplace. The law further requires that businesses enable new risk management plans, and there are harsh penalties for companies that fail to comply.

During the National State of Disaster — which is still in place — the government has gazetted further requirements in terms of the OHS Bill that include measures such as wearing face masks in the workplace and maintaining strict social distancing.

As a result, there has never been greater awareness around OHS in the workplace and there is a bigger need for individuals to fulfil job roles in this space.

Job opportunities include, for instance, openings for safety officers, environmental protection officers, and health and safety managers, among many more.

With just a Grade 10 qualification, and the ability to read and write in English, one would be eligible, for example, to study courses that can lead one to become an Occupational Health and Safety representative in the workplace or an Occupational Health and Safety Co-ordinator.

A further explanation of these skills and their associated courses is listed below.

Occupational Health and Safety Representative

An occupational health and safety representative not only puts health and safety systems in place, but they also give advice to the employer about health and safety issues and investigate accidents that occur in the workplace.

The kind of course that a learner would need to take to pursue this career would be that of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) (Representative in the Workplace): Proficiency Course. Here, one will learn how to identify health and danger hazards, how to improve health and safety, conduct inspections, give advice to an employer, and also act as the legally compliant OHS representative of a workplace.

Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator

Another key role in this space is that of the Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator. Many businesses employ safety coordinators to manage regulations put in place to reduce the risk of accidents in the workplace.

This Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) (Coordinator in the Workplace): Proficiency Course can equip one with the skills needed to put safety systems in place, perform first aid, identify potential dangers, and visually display safety and health guidelines in and around the workplace.

Both of these courses take up to 10 months to complete and are available from platforms such as our own at College SA. After qualifying, learners also have the opportunity to apply with SAIOSH (The South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health), where there is further free access to CPD workshops, OHS e-learning programmes, OHS webinars and more.

This is an effective way to gain employment in a world that is rapidly changing around us. In spite of Covid-19, this will continue to be an important part of the workplace and it is also a way to help reduce unemployment while protecting our health and safety.