The Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (RF) (Pty) Ltd (“FEM”) is licensed to conduct non-life insurance business.

The Fundamental Human Right to Health & Safety at Work

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The right to health and safety at work is a fundamental human right. Globally, there are robust laws, as well as industry regulations and occupational safety best practice rules in place to ensure the safety of workers. The International Labour Organization describes occupational health and safety (OHS) as “the discipline dealing with the prevention of work-related injuries and diseases, as well as the protection and promotion of the health of workers”. Many companies, particularly those in comparatively high-risk industries (such as construction, manufacturing and mining) have dedicated health and safety officers, and in larger organisations, health and safety committees, to ensure adherence to safety laws and regulations. South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, requires the employer to bring about and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the workers.

Despite this, an estimated 2.78 million workers die each year from occupational accidents and workplace-related diseases, while an additional 374 million workers suffer from non-fatal occupational accidents (United Nations Global Compact). To put this into perspective, this means that globally 7,500 people die every single day due to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.

In South Africa, within the construction industry alone, there are excessively high rates of accidents, including fatal ones. Statistics released by The Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (FEM), based on their insured employer claims (extracted as at December 2023), reflect a total of 5 986 accidents for 2023, 48 of which were fatal incidents. Of those accidents,  19 resulted in permanent disability. These figures are based on an estimated 50% of the formal construction workforce who are insured by FEM, and do not take into consideration the informal sector at all – meaning that the situation is, in reality, far more serious.

Workplace injuries, disabilities and fatal accidents have far-reaching consequences that extend to the friends, family and communities of workers. Serious accidents impact the employee’s quality of life and potential to earn a livelihood. For loved ones, fatal accidents may mean losing a parent, a partner, a sibling or a child, for instance. The person may also be the primary breadwinner of the family, with the loss leaving loved ones in a state of financial distress in addition to grief.

From a human rights perspective, there are numerous basic human rights that underlie the imperative of occupational health and safety. These include:

  • The right to life – an employee’s fundamental right to a safe workplace environment and to be protected from harm and hazards in the workplace that could endanger lives. It is both the responsibility of the employer and the employees themselves to demonstrate a commitment to preventing accidents that may cause harm or loss in any way. Workers are legally bound to comply with the prescriptions of the OHS Act. Unsafe acts of the worker may not negatively impact or endanger others (Labour Guide South Africa).
  • The right to health – the right of workers to health and safety measures that ensure physical and mental well-being. This includes the provision of the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) aimed at preventing injuries, illnesses and health issues caused by work-related hazards.
  • The right to fair working conditions – a safe workplace is a crucial element of fair working conditions. This includes safe work conditions, safety measures, reasonable working hours, the prevention of exploitation and the implementation and adherence to safety practices across the organisation. This involves a management culture that upholds the values of a fair workplace environment.
  • The right to dignity – Unsafe working conditions not only risk the physical and psychological well-being of an employee, but also undermines their right to dignity. Again, this is closely linked to the workplace culture of an organisation, and the value placed on the well-being of each and every employee.

Ensuring a safe work environment extends beyond PPE and equipment functioning – it also relates to having a zero-tolerance policy on any form of violence, gender discrimination, harassment or victimization. No person should feel unsafe when trying to earn an honest wage.

A safe workplace promotes economic development as employees who feel valued and cared for tend to be more productive. Fewer accidents and illnesses mean fewer sick days off and less disruptions to the flow of a business. From a direct financial perspective, ensuring the health and safety of employees reduces an organisation’s risk when it comes to losses associated with occupational accidents and diseases. Therefore, a safe and productive organisation positively contributes to socio-economic growth goals such as poverty alleviation, improved education and quality healthcare, among others.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), establishing lasting human rights, and sustainability policies and practices, will be key to the long-term survival and success of any business. It helps organisations navigate an increasingly complex business environment in which managing business resilience has become essential. Stakeholders and shareholders increasingly expect companies to respect human rights.

As explained in the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on Business and Human Rights, the responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights applies to all enterprises regardless of their size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure. Nevertheless, the scale and complexity of the means through which enterprises meet that responsibility may vary according to these factors and with the severity of the enterprise’s adverse human rights impacts.

This Human Rights Month – and beyond – let us all strive to uphold health and safety standards aimed at improving the lives and livelihoods of all workers. Not just because it is in the best interest of organisations, but because as people, as responsible human beings; and as a society, it is the right thing to do.

FEM's Benefits Include:

Any medical costs related to the accident are covered.

Valid Letter of Good Standing for entrance to sites as well as tender applications.

Access to private healthcare for injured employees.

All administration is done by FEM which includes requesting all reports.

Online submission of claims documentation which helps speed up processing allowing for quick response

Merit rebates paid on favourable claims experience.

In addition, FEM has long-established relationships with an extensive list of private hospital groups as well as qualified professional nurses who monitor treatment to ensure it is in line with the injury, eliminating over-servicing. Accident statistics are also available on-line to assist employees in reducing risk. FEM also lodges Road Accident Fund claims for Motor Vehicle accidents on the employer’s behalf.

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