The NIOH would like to thank Mrs Joyce Mogale, NHLS CEO, for opening the Research Day on 3 September 2015 and for being a fervent supporter of research in workplaces.
The National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH) is a division of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and is administered under the NHLS Act. As the CEO it is indeed my pride and pleasure to open this research day to all present but especially to salute the young researchers who have worked so hard to make this day a reality.
In Public Health it is known that improvements in peoples’ social and economic circumstances have a big impact on improving the health of individuals and communities. Having a decent job is the most important way of achieving these improvements as a decent job can lead to better health of workers and their families. But insecure and hazardous work has the opposite effect, leading to poor health of workers and negative consequences on families and communities, as is seen in South African rural labour sending areas. It also has a negative impact on the overall economy of our country.
We need to ensure that work promotes good health. To do this we need to encourage decent work and to identify and control the workplace factors that lead to illness, injury and environmental damage. But the world of work is complex and changing; so new knowledge through research is needed if we are to achieve the goal of healthy workplaces and to provide evidence-based and cost-effective solutions to prevent disease and injury.
The world of work is complex partly because there are so many hazards. No one knows how many chemicals are used in industry, but it surely exceeds 100 000. The health effects of only a small proportion of these chemicals have been studied, and the effects of mixtures of these chemicals are largely unknown.
It is complex because new technology brings the potential for new hazards. Nanotechnology is the most topical example, but hydraulic fracturing is growing globally and is possibly on our doorstep, bringing known and unknown hazards with it.
It is also complex because the context is important. Each country has circumstances which make work different. We mine and process many minerals, we have deep mines, high rates of TB and HIV, a young population but also an aging workforce in some respects: for example the average age of South African artisans is over 50. The different contexts mean that solutions may need to be tailored to meet our needs.
At the same time, work arrangements are changing rapidly with insecure work and labour broking on the rise. What effect is this having on South African working people and their families? We have to do the necessary research to arrive at answers that can inform new solutions.
Many workplaces have major problems with regards to absenteeism. The reasons for absenteeism from work are many and often not known. Good scientific research can help us to determine the underlying reasons for absenteeism and provide us with information to address the problems.
New knowledge through research is thus fundamental to a better world of work and the reason why national institutes for occupational health around the world have research as a core function. This research is often interdisciplinary because of the complexity of modern workplaces.
The research done by the NIOH is in itself important. But as important is the production of researchers. All over South Africa, and in many other parts of the world, are occupational researchers who learnt their “trade” at the NIOH or while working with or being supervised by NIOH researchers.
This research day mainly profiles the research of the NIOH’s younger researchers. All of the research is applied, that is it aims to define or solve a problem. The scope of research is quite remarkable, covering the new concern of nanoparticles; our old foes gold mine dust, silica, asbestos and tuberculosis; practical interventions like respirator fit and surveillance systems; cancers; chemical exposures; skin diseases; and microbes in hospital water systems.
I would like to celebrate all your efforts, those of the young researchers but also their supervisors and the many workplaces that made it possible for the research to be conducted as well as the organisers who coordinated this event. I want to remind you how proud we are of the new knowledge that you create which undoubtedly will have an impact on the lives of working people. Please be assured that we will continue to find ways to support you to be the very best that you be in research nationally and globally.
From L-R: Captain Eric Esswein (NIOSH-CDC USA); Dr Sophia Kisting (NIOH Executive Director); Mr Kevin Renton (Occupational Hygiene – NIOH) and Prof Leslie London (UCT)