Officials at the Free State Department of Health are turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to circumstances fuelling workers’ outcry over occupational health and safety (OHS) standards at the Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein.
This resurfaced after the provincial Department of Labour temporarily closed the Heidedal Polyclinic from Tuesday, 18 January, causing disruption of services.
Scores of patients were sent home, and some referred to other clinics. The clinic staff, including nurses, stood outside the facility for hours while the building was being cleared.
The facility reopened on Tuesday (25/01), with issues regarding unsafe conditions lingering.
Elke de Witt, acting spokesperson for the provincial Department of Health, said a request had been submitted to the Department of Labour to revoke the shutdown.
According to the Health Department’s investigation, the flooding that disrupted services at the clinic was due to water from taps, after the municipality experienced water shortages on Sunday, 16 January.
“Apparently taps were left open and this resulted in the clinic being flooded on the first and ground floor. It is important to note that water damages are not due to maintenance issues, and minor maintenance issues are being actively addressed by the Mangaung District Management,” said De Witt.
Findings by the provincial Department of Labour have revealed that non-compliance to OHS standards compromises the welfare of frontline workers and the public.
Cebisa Siyobi, provincial spokesperson for the department, said an inspection conducted at the facility on 25 November last year had revealed non-compliance with some provisions of OHS Act.
This non-compliance pertains to environmental regulations for workplaces, facilities regulations, regulations for hazardous biological agents and electrical installations regulations.
Upon these findings, the Department of Health was issued with a contravention notice to rectify the issues within 60 days. The department, however, did not put measures in place to comply.
“Unfortunately, failure to immediately effect the said requirements resulted in the incident that occurred on Tuesday,” said Siyobi.
A follow-up inspection had intially been planned for Monday (24/01) after the notice period of 60 days expired on 23 January. However, the flooding at the clinic led to a premature inspection on Wednesday, 19 January, revealing the clinic posed an immediate danger to the safety of staff and patients.
“If the Department of Health is found not compliant to the requirements of the contravention notice, the head of the department will be liable for prosecution in terms of section 16 and 38 of the OHS Act.”
Workers have expressed concern about non-compliance to OHS at the hospital.
“The clinic is a ticking time bomb. Some must die first for the department or government to act,” said a nurse.
In December, disgruntled workers at the hospital downed tools over unsafe working conditions and staff shortages in critical positions, hampering the ability to render quality service to the public.