Health and Safety Professionals at War

2014-08-29 11:09

The fragile health & safety profession is up in arms about the government’s plans to regulate the profession. This followed after the South African Council for Project & Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP), as the official custodian of the profession in the construction industry, turned down the application for registration as Construction Health & Safety Manager of a Port Elizabeth man with extensive experience and qualifications in Health & Safety. He now has to appoint a mentor to “sign off” on a logbook he must keep for 2 years before he can register. The career of this person might soon be at an end, as employers are forced to engage registered persons only. It would have been less of a blow if he was registered at the lower level of officer, and not candidate manager as is currently the case.

An appeal against the SACPCMP decision was lodged, but will not be entertained before an amount of R3695 were paid on top of the initial application fee, which is not refundable.

The profession is marred with a lack of direction, variable standards of education and training and three professional bodies each forcing their own views on the relatively small pool of practitioners.

But the practitioners are not convinced that their 30 year contribution to workplace health & safety is soon to be declared null and void unless they are registered. In two major construction disasters, the Tongaat Mall and Meyersdal slab collapses, resulting in 9 deaths in 12 months, officials from the SACPCMP and DOL were quick to blame the lack of competence in health & safety and used this to justify its plans to regulate the profession. Health & safety Practitioners however disagree as they are not involved in structural engineering decisions, the testing of concrete strength, the design of form work, or the inspection and certification of support work.

In neither the incidents above, the root causes have been identified yet, and it clear that blaming health & safety practitioners are premature and totally unfounded.

Practitioners are also concerned about the involvement of one of the professional bodies, in that one of their founding members is also a member of the Advisory Council of Occupational Health & Safety, advising the Minister of Labour on legislation and employed by one of the largest employers organisations for the construction industry in South Africa. Some practitioners believe that if this professional body can persuade the minister to give them legal status via the proposed amendments to the Occupational Health & Safety Act, they will secure their member revenue and CPD for a very long period. The question of conflict of interest has been raised on numerous occasions and some called for “Spring cleaning” of the Advisory Council, which has since been dubbed “CHAOS”.

Questions have been raised about the structure of these institutions, who are supposed to be non-profit organisations, each having a closed corporation, performing certain functions for reward. Financial transparency is also cause for concern amongst some professionals and more so now that the State President has appointed the SIU to investigate the conduct of the Department of Public Works, who recently called for the closure of the Council for the Built Environment and to have the SACPCMP report directly to the Minister of Public Works.

Plans by one of the professional associations, NIOCCSA, to inform employers of practitioners not having the required ethical track record and insurance policies to act as consultants, have also fired up emotions within the H&S fraternity.

NIOCCSA subsequently opted out of the registration racket, and are now calling on professionals to comment on the proposed registration and plans to call for a repeal of the registration regulations under the newly published Construction Regulations.

Consultants who have been practicing for the past 20 years may soon find themselves out of work, if the SACPCMP do not “approve” their competencies. In a country where job creation is few and far between and many are forced to fend for themselves, the registration process is bound to cause restrictions in free trade and barriers of entry to the profession.

H&S practitioners are not of the top paid in the country, but registration fees, annual fees, exam fees and Continuous professional development imposed on them by the SACPCMP are above the financial means of the majority of practitioners. One practitioner argued that for 7 CPD points, he has to attend a conference in Johannesburg for three days at R7182, and pay for air travel and accommodation out of his own pocket, whilst on top of it, lose three days of “income generating time”; all because the CPD events are located in one province.

Concerns have been raised that big construction companies, some of whom have been investigated by the Competition Commission for tender rigging, are shifting the onus to engage competent professionals from themselves to the SACPCMP in an attempt to lower the cost of health & safety.

Proponents for the process of registration believes the issue of “incompetence” will be resolved once everybody is registered, but fails to tell how the level of education is going to “increase” by spending almost R8 000 to apply for registration and maintaining CPD at around R52 000 in a five year cycle.

Those supporting the registration process have even resorted to insults, accusations and attempts to discredit other professionals who do not share their own views.

Clearly there was not enough public consultation with practitioners on the financial implications of the registration process and now that the lawful enforcement is less than 12 months down the line, many professionals are seeking to scrap the registration process altogether.

Practitioners have been invited to raise their objections to the registration process via email to objections[at]nioccsa.org.za and share their concerns.

NIOCCSA plans to engage the minister of labour to amend the Construction Regulations to remove compulsory registration from the law-books.

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