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South Africa has extensive occupational safety and health (OSH) legislative framework, which is closely aligned to the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Despite this, the Department of Labour estimates that more than R2-billion worth of claims for on-the-job accidents and work-related illnesses are lodged with the Compensation Fund every year.

Thanks to advances in technology and engineering, the local auto manufacturing industry has made great strides in minimising potential risks and improving working conditions for their factory workers. Over the past few months, Ford has invested R3-billion in upgrades to both its Silverton Assembly Plant east of Pretoria, and Struandale Engine Plant outside Port Elizabeth. Not only for imminent introduction of the new Ranger Raptor and its engine to the assembly lines, but also to bring operations in line with global OSH standards, and improve ergonomics for workers.

In the Body Shop at the Silverton Assembly Plant, the installation of a new high line prevents potential safety risks associated with working from pits on the underbody, and the installation of manipulators or lifting aids eliminates over-exertion strains due to manual lifting and carrying of heavy parts or loads. The new door sub-assembly allows easier access to work inside the vehicle, and eliminates the risk of damaging the doors. A new flush floor chain system eliminates the trip hazard. Seats are now supplied via a conveyor system in the roof, which reduces traffic inside the plant. And additional robots increase automation of certain processes, reducing manual handling, most notably in the Paint Shop.

“Since implementing these changes, productivity has increased, and less supervisory attention is needed, due to increased job satisfaction,” says Plant Industrial Engineer, Keabetswe Molebaloa. “Employee engagement has improved, and absenteeism has decreased.”

“An ergonomic-friendly workstation is a more efficient and productive work-station,” says Dr Herina Grobler, Occupational Medical Practitioner at Ford. “Good ergonomics prevents injuries and permanent musculoskeletal problems. Good posture by the worker demands less exertion and fewer motions. It decreases worker frustration due to discomfort, as well as fatigue during task performance and after shift completion. It boosts worker morale when they notice the employer is trying to improve working circumstances. This can reduce staff turn-over, and improve employee involvement in work processes.”

Ultimately, happy staff equals quality product.