Eskom’s bright idea

2007-12-01 00:00

Eskom — or Eishkom as it is known to its detractors — has come up with one of those brilliant ideas that will ensure its management can justifiably award itself a lavish round of end-of-year bonuses. This in spite of the fact that it is unable to fulfil its primary function of providing adequate supplies of electricity.

On Tuesday this week Eskom prohibited all work-related travel throughout the country for the day as part of its “vehicle safety enhancement initiative”. This brainwave was in response to an increase in road fatalities among its staff.

According to a spokesperson, “Since the beginning of the year, seven of the 17 fatalities and 26% of all the lost time incidents have been vehicle related. During the past three weeks alone two vehicle-related fatalities occurred.” The chief executive of Eskom, Jacob Morega, said — presumably straight-faced — that no operating condition or urgency of service could justify endangering the life of anyone or causing injury or damage to the environment.

It is not clear how Eskom weighs the dangers to its employees of driving against the potential loss of life to other South Africans when robots are not working and suburbs are in darkness. Nor the costs to economy of factories not manufacturing, shops not opening, computers not running and food going bad in industrial freezers.

More than 40 people a day die on South Africa’s roads. So seven deaths in 11 months at an institution that employs umpteen thousand people and whose maintenance crews have to swarm the country’s highways, byways and cross-country noways to repair infrastructure collapsing from the lack of investment over decades, is unfortunate but hardly excessive.

Eskom staff were, however, allowed on Tuesday to drive to the office in the morning and back home at 4 pm, so that they could attend their very own personal public holiday. That is an outrageously dangerous thing for management to allow.

Since a significant proportion of car accidents happen on the way to and from work, it would have been safer to insist that they just stayed at home. And since more accidents happen at night, all out-of-hours emergency work should be postponed to the safer daylight hours.

Maybe Eskom’s brains trust should ask who are causing the accidents involving their employees. It would make good sense, but take more effort, for Eskom to implement a defensive driving programme for its employees.

Perhaps the institution should employ a risk statistician to ponder all possibilities, instead of relying on a public relations agency to invent stupid campaigns. At the end of the financial year, after calculating the chances of us seeing an Eskom van next to a collapsed power line, he or she could then help calculate the infinitesimal possibility that the CEO’s mega-bonus will be disallowed by government.

On the other hand, Eskom’s embrace of a zero-risk philosophy could really catch on in South Africa. Let us, too, join that gloriously safe world where pram manufacturers solemnly warn that one should remove the baby before folding the pushchair and stowing it in the boot of the car. Where soldiers in Britain’s elite paratroop regiment can sue — and win — damages for injuries sustained during a training exercise carried out in rough weather.

With the advent of the annual lemming rush to the coast of up-country folk unused to large expanses of water, drownings are bound to increase. This could be avoided by the simple expedient of not allowing Free Staters and Gautengers to swim in the sea. They can sit safely on the beach and watch.

Then there are the mean streets that the South African Police Service has to patrol. More officers are murdered in a month than Eskom employees die in car accidents in a year.

Surely it is another sign of National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi’s incompetence that he has not followed the example of his counterpart at Eskom and taken his officers off the beat to protect them from death and maiming?

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