Medical staff are seen at a university hospital in Gwangju

Department of Employment and Labor officially launched an Occupational Health and Hygiene laboratory to improve inspection methods and provide the inspectorate with scientific tools for their work.

The first-of-its-kind laboratory was unveiled by the Chief Directorate: Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) on Monday at the ground floor of the department's head office in Laboria House, Pretoria.

The department's Chief Inspector Milly Ruiters explained that the laboratory is part of the Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES) branch's efforts to upgrade the inspectorate standards, adding that this initiative will be implemented across all provinces.

"The purpose of the laboratory is multifaceted, in that it will be used as a training facility in the field of occupational hygiene to prepare and provide technical support for OHS inspectors," Ruiters said, SA News reported.

"Furthermore, this laboratory will also be used to support practical exposure for inspectors who wish to prepare themselves for professional certification in the field of occupational hygiene," she added.

The facility comes with equipment that is capable of monitoring several occupational stressors (factors in the workplace that cause stress to employees) including noise, hazardous chemical agents, illumination, indoor air quality and airflow.

She further noted that the department consists of 700 OHS inspectors and most of them are specializing in Occupational Health and Hygiene (OHH), noting that previously OHS inspectors focused mainly on engineering but now they are branching into other areas of OHH.

"This is a milestone for us," she said. "A lot of employers are not complying with OHH. With this facility, we will empower our inspectors to go and do spot checks and they will no longer be second-guessing."

As per the World Health Organization (WHO), work-related stress can result from factors like poor work organization, poor work design (lack of control over work processes), poor management, unsatisfactory working conditions and lack of support from colleagues and supervisors.

The department's IES branch Inspector General Aggy Moiloa called this a "giant step" while noting that this is just a "humble beginning." A total sum of R956,000 has been spent on the facility and the OHH Directorate will look after the laboratory.