Over the years, Africa has seen some encouraging developments in health and safety. While progress is evident, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure safer working conditions across the continent.
The International Labour Organization (“ILO”) states that the economic burden of poor occupational health and safety practices worldwide is estimated at 4% of the annual global Gross Domestic Product.
In many African countries, the real impact of poor health and safety practices is unknown. This is due to a lack of adequate data collection and poor governance. However, this is changing with the gradual improvement of health and safety systems and reporting processes.
Health and Safety, being a major part of industrialization, is an important aspect of economic development. Reliable health and safety systems are attractive to investors.
Africa’s development opportunities have encouraged the improvement of health and safety systems across the continent. South Africa takes the lead, and remains the most regulated country in Africa, insofar as health and safety is concerned. It’s well drafted and implemented health and safety legislation is the basis for its decrease in work related fatalities over the years, particularly in its mining sector. The Southern African Development Community (“SADC”) is also not far off, and has set its focus on establishing and improving their implementation of health and safety laws and the governance thereof. Some SADC countries such as South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi (to name a few), have enacted specific legislation, which exclusively governs health and safety, while many other countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique have incorporated health and safety laws into their labour legislation.
The challenges faced by African countries include inadequate enforcement measures and poor reporting systems. However, Africa is aligning itself to the rest of the world through the adoption of the ILO standards, which will help in establishing good health and safety practices across the continent. This international alignment will contribute positively to investment in Africa.
The past decade has seen increased investor activity in Africa, which has encouraged the demand for infrastructure development and communications. This in turn has influenced the increased construction and engineering activity in the continent. The developments have also attracted further interests in the mining and energy sectors.
The human cost of inadequate health and safety systems may have detrimental legal implications and financial losses due to early retirements, loss of skilled staff, absenteeism, and high insurance premiums resulting from work related accidents and diseases, something every investor will seek to avoid or at least mitigate. Investors setting their sights on Africa will place compliance and implementation of health and safety systems at the top of their list of considerations.
The return on investment in good health and safety systems is far greater than the costs. When investments are coupled with health and safety policies that prioritize the most urgent challenges and seek to mitigate them, they contribute to safer working environments, more productive industries and sustainable economic growth.
Africa’s continuous improvement of their health and safety systems will encourage foreign investment and contribute positively to the continents economic competitiveness.
While development seems slow in some respect, there is no doubt that Africa is heading in the right direction and the next couple of years will show evidence of the ever-improving health and safety systems across the continent.
As investor activity increases, so will the demand to ensure the highest level of health and safety compliance. Governments and local companies will be encouraged to partner with the right experts to help them achieve sustainable health and safety policies and improve its enforcement measures.
Africa is open for business, and the time is now.