How Occupational Health Affects Businesses | FITMed24

How Occupational Health Affects Workers, Employers, and the Economy

With few exceptions, for millennia, it has been the practice of employers to assign precedence to profits while giving little or no thought to the cost borne by employees in their efforts to meet their, often unrealistic, production targets. Periodically, it became evident that some workers, such as miners, might be exposed to hazards that could impede their productivity and, the Ancient Greeks, for example, responded by issuing crude masks to limit the inhalation of dust. Even the industrial revolution did little to change employers’ attitudes, and legislation governing occupational health and safety was not introduced until the latter half of the twentieth century.

While earlier acts aimed to protect workers in selected fields like mining and construction, only in 1994 did South Africa introduce an act that applied to all workers and obliged employers to adopt measures to protect them. Today, the employer’s responsibility is mainly to identify possible hazards and implement measures to eliminate or minimise them, failing which, they must provide workers with effective protection. Occupational health measures, however, should not be restricted to preventative measures. Though not yet a legal requirement, performing regular medical examinations of workers to ensure they have not been affected by such hazards has some important benefits.

In practice, the lesson that those employers of the past failed to learn was that the cost of keeping their employees healthy can be recouped almost immediately, purely as a result of their greater productivity. In addition, a healthy workforce means less money spent on unproductive, paid sick leave. Putting profits before occupational health concerns can, in fact, be more likely to lead to losses.

Statistics suggest that absenteeism in South Africa is currently costing the nation’s economy something between R12 and R15 billion every year. The figures arise from the combined cost of paying the wages of absentees, hiring, and perhaps training temporary staff to replace them or paying overtime to existing employees for filling in. It is less obvious when the quality of goods or services is compromised by staff shortages, which further underlines the widespread importance of occupational health services.

Liability is yet another challenge faced by employers. In recent years, claims arising from work-related conditions, such as silicosis and asbestosis have been overtaken by those from workers affected by excessive noise in the workplace. Many of these are likely to be spurious, but only the evidence of periodic audiograms conducted as part of an occupational health programme could confirm or preclude the possibility of fraud. Without such evidence, a seasoned industrial injury lawyer will require little more than proof of his or her clients’ currently impaired ability to hear and a noisy working environment, to substantiate a claim. Such possibilities provide yet another compelling reason for an employer to consider this option.

It is not unreasonable to claim that the responsibility for their health should rest with the individual, but, where there is a risk of work-related illness, it is in the interest of employers to ensure that this responsibility is fulfilled. To assist them, FITMed24 offers a comprehensive occupational health plan that includes a number of free, but valuable benefits for participating companies, and is the first organisation of its kind in South Africa to do so.

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