Facilities management services provider Afroteq Advisory, a subsidiary of holding company AFMS Group, expanded its service offering in the occupational health and safety (OHS) sector by acquiring OHS service provider OHS Africa.
Acquired in May this year, the new division, OHSAfroteq, forms part of Afroteq Advisory’s strategic services that enable executive and senior managers to make informed and strategic decisions about OHS in their facilities as part of legislative compliance.
“Over the past few years, we have identified that our clients, particularly those in the built environment sector, are experiencing a growing need for expert OHS advice,” explains Afroteq Advisory director Andre Michau.
The acquisition means that Afroteq Advisory is expanding its OHS management system into a fully-fledged, standalone division that is integrated with the company’s quality management system and operational practices and service agreements.
“Launching OHSAfroteq is a major milestone for our company and achieves an important strategic objective that we have been working towards for quite some time,” Michau notes.
OHSAfroteq divisional head Robert Palmer says Afroteq Advisory’s decision to acquire a division of OHS Africa to form OHSAfroteq was taken during the second half of 2019 in response to client needs, and not in response to Covid-19.
“The fact that the deal was finalised just as South Africa was experiencing the first impacts of Covid-19 was purely coincidental,” he tells Engineering News.
Palmer adds that the opportune timing showed that Afroteq Advisory had correctly anticipated client needs.
“Fortunately for them and for us, we had a team of trained and experienced OHS professionals ready to assist schools, universities and corporates when they suddenly needed to become Covid-19 ready and compliant in terms of the OHS Act.”
OHSAfroteq has achieved this by hosting various webinars, during which it provided practical advice on how schools, universities and businesses can ensure that workable health and safety plans are in place to protect their workers, staff, pupils or visitors entering their premises.
The company also completed preparedness audits and detailed Covid-19 risk assessments for clients. This involved an OHSAfroteq consultant visiting clients’ sites for audits, during which several pertinent questions were asked.
Palmer explains that companies must be able to demonstrate to the inspector that they have the necessary paperwork, precautions and practical solutions in place to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.
This includes introducing non-invasive screening mechanisms and creating isolation stations for pupils or workers that show possible signs of infection. It also fosters the development of a plan of action to ensure continued physical distancing without compromising on efficiency or practicality.
“Once a company, construction site or school opens its doors, it will be subject to an inspection by a departmental investigator who will inspect the premises to ensure compliance. Failure to meet these standards could result in serious consequences, such as fines, imprisonment or both, as well as closure of the facility,” says Palmer.
Moreover, companies could face costly personal injury litigation if employees or a member of the public contract the virus while on the premises. It could also cause serious reputational damage to a company if it is found to have been negligent.
Palmer explains that, although the need for OHS experts might previously have appeared to be more prevalent in the built environment – owing to the various risks for employees who enter a building or construction site, or have to work at heights – the need for OHS to be incorporated into the operations of the business is heightened for every industry and conceivable area.
“The built environment was the incubator,” he comments, pointing out that the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted that every company or institution – regardless of their size or geographical location – needs an OHS plan.
Palmer adds that, although he expects that the threat posed by Covid-19 might dissipate by early 2021, the impact – from an OHS point of view – is here to stay.
“The outbreak of Covid-19 has highlighted that many South African companies and institutions fail to comply with this legislation. The resulting lockdown regulations have had a positive result, in that they have put health and safety in the workplace at the top of the agenda.”
Palmer notes that people have become more aware of how quickly diseases can spread and why it is important to have a working environment that is clean, safe and hygienic.
“Prior to the outbreak, few schools and companies knew what it meant to have a health and safety file prepared that addresses the associated risks, or what an OHS officer does,” he notes.
Palmer believes that there is little doubt that the myriad Covid-19 precautions have had a positive impact and helped to reduce the number of infections. He says doctors having reported very few cases of normal seasonal flu this year bears testimony to this fact.
“In the years to come, we can expect companies to implement the same mindfulness to health and safety protocols that have now become the norm. Our country and our economy cannot afford to lose more time and money, owing to employees who are unable to do their work as a result of sickness or injury,” Palmer concludes.