IOPSA-accredited plumbers set benchmark in OH&S

IOPSA-member plumbers are able to make detailed, robust arrangements for health and safety-related decisions.

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Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA)-accredited plumbers are setting the benchmark in occupational health and safety (OH&S) protocol, going beyond mere compliance with legislation. This also demonstrates their commitment to ensuring the sustainability of their businesses and the industry as a whole. OH&S safeguards the most important company resource, its employees, who ensure business continuity and sound environmental practices that protect the planet. Therefore, health and safety should be integrated into human capital. Yet, too often, they are given scant attention in sustainability strategies, with environmental and financial factors being the main focus.

OH&S has been a major drive of IOPSA since 2017 when it first approached OHSS Consulting to assist its members to significantly improve their OH&S protocol. The company’s mandate also included helping the largest plumbing association in the country to develop health and safety procedures specifically for the plumbing industry. These had to go beyond complying with all the minimum requirements in terms of OH&S legislation by establishing what can be considered to be best practice in terms of health and safety for plumbers. The thinking behind this approach was that when companies strived to meet these very onerous requirements, they would inevitably comply with the bare minimum, in terms of health and safety standards.

Therefore, IOPSA-member plumbers are able to make detailed, robust arrangements for health and safety-related decisions. This is so that they can better manage the many health and safety-related risks in the plumbing profession. These range from exposure to hazardous chemical and biological substances as well as slips, trips and falls through to electric shock, burns and musculoskeletal injuries. The level of risk is influenced by the environment in which plumbers work.

“It has been a long journey for these enterprising plumbing companies to get to the point where we are now but has certainly proved to be well worth the effort. Employees who work for companies that take health and safety seriously are more motivated because they know that their employers are interested in their wellbeing. This means that they are more productive and efficient which ensures customer satisfaction and, therefore, profitability. They are also more loyal team members which reduces turnover with its high costs associated with recruiting, training and onboarding. It is also a major competitive edge for companies. This is considering that enterprising clients want to associate with companies that are heavily invested in their own sustainability and that of their industries,” OHSS Consulting’s Chris Coetzee says.

The extent to which IOPSA-member plumbing companies are committed to health and safety is evidenced by the quality of their Site Safety Files, which includes detailed documentation that demonstrates an intricate understanding of OH&S legislation. This is in addition to their toolbox talks which are centred around the associated health and safety risks associated with plumbing. Previously, these meetings were more general in nature by taking a broader view of health and safety risks associated with construction. This approach sets the benchmark for other specialist construction trades which have not yet tailored health and safety around the specific risks inherent in their profession. Members of IOPSA are also supported in the field by the institute’s Health and Safety Department, which is headed by Coetzee.

Considering the effort made thus far by IOPSA-member plumbers, most – if not all – of these businesses are also well-prepared for the imminent enactment of amendments to the Occupational Health & Safety Act, 1993, into legislation. This is expected to take place in September 2023 with the changes having already been promulgated.

The OH&S Amendment Bill enforces stricter health and safety requirements for businesses, with the most far-reaching change being the requirement for businesses to have a health and safety management system. This is opposed to only a health and safety policy as detailed in Section 7 of the OH&S Act.

According to the OHS Amendment Bill, a health and safety management system is a “co-ordinated, comprehensive set of interrelated or interacting elements. This, in turn, will “establish occupational health and safety policy and objective in order to optimally manage health and safety”.

Coetzee explains that companies will now have to formalise health and safety procedures, which include policies, objectives, and measurement tools.

“As opposed to only having a document consisting of a few pages detailing health and safety processes, there is so much more involved now. Companies have to firmly entrench health and safety into every business function. For a plumbing company, for example, health and safety already starts when buying plumbing materials and continues throughout the installation and thereafter,” he says.

There are also more severe penalties for non-compliance. Inspectors now have the power to immediately issue administrative fines for certain contraventions. Previously, they could only serve a prohibition notice providing a period of time in which to correct violations. However, there were no implications for not doing so, unless an incident actually occurred. This will encourage a more proactive approach to OH&S. To date, companies have mainly reacted to accidents and incident, by which time it is too late.

Nevertheless, the ultimate intention of the OHS Amendment Bill is for companies to see for themselves how OH&S actually benefits their businesses – in the same way that IOPSA-members plumbers have. This will encourage the intended behavioural changes that are needed to ensure better OH&S protocols.

Brendan Reynolds, Executive Director of IOPSA, lauds IOPSA members for their continued focus on OH&S. “This is yet another example of how our plumbers distinguish themselves in the marketplace. Qualified plumbers know how to install, maintain, repair, and replace plumbing correctly and in a healthy and safe manner for employees, occupants of building and surrounding communities,” he concludes.

For more information contact:

David Poggiolini

Debbie Poggiolini

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