The National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH), a WHO Collaborating Centre (CC) in Occupational Health (OH), hosted the international course WHO Modules in Occupational Health: risk assessment and management of chemical and other exposures in agricultural, industrial and health sectors, from 28 September to 2 October 2009. The course was designed to contribute to the knowledge of the novice professional, as well as the experienced OH practitioner. The information found in the modules is applicable to all with an interest in keeping the workforce healthy and safe: occupational hygienists, occupational health nurses, occupational medicine physicians, public health officers, policy makers, labour inspectors, and worker health and safety advocates.
The WHO Modules in OH were developed by a team of experts from the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Illinois – Chicago, USA, also a WHO CC in OH. The modules were developed to execute the 49th World Health Assembly Global Strategy for OH; the materials complement the effort of the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) – Global Implementation Strategy on Occupational Risk Management.
The materials are case-based modules in the specific sectors of agriculture, manufacturing, and the health service; the course combines lectures, demonstrations, problem solving and building of skills through interactive, small group and individual activities, and is designed around the following principles:

  • Workers are entitled to a healthy and safe work environment,
  • Risk evaluation requires a systematic approach that is essential for control and prevention of work related injuries and illnesses,
  • Sentinel health events have been traditionally used as an indicator of exposure to an occupational hazard. However, currently there is enough knowledge of workplace hazards to intervene prior to an adverse health outcome.

The course was organised and coordinated by Ms Inakshi Naik, Head of Section: Analytical Services, and her team at the NIOH, in close collaboration with the course presenters. Generous sponsorship and support from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), USA; and Lancet and Ampath Laboratories in South Africa, allowed the course registration fees to be kept as low as possible. Interactive activities included site visits to two different workplaces: a hospital laundry and two specialised laboratories of the NIOH.

The following experts from the University of Illinois, Chicago, were the main course presenters:
Prof Leslie Nickels – Executive Director and Clinical Assistant Professor; specialist in training effectiveness, programme evaluation, and health and safety interventions for underserved populations;
Prof Lorraine Conroy – Executive Director and Professor; specialist in workplace exposure assessment, characterization of workplace contaminant sources, and ventilation system model development and validation;
Prof Preethi Pratap – Research Assistant Professor, with interests in health and safety training in occupational and public health, exposure to workers from hazardous waste sites, and environmental epidemiology.
Ms Jennifer McGowan from the University of Illinois was the course evaluator as well as a facilitator, and Dr Lalitha Burra from Nayati International, India, assisted with the facilitation as she coordinated this same course in India in 2008.
The aims of the course were to develop and strengthen the following approaches in OH:

  • Anticipate and recognize workplace hazards
  • Describe exposure to workplace hazards and their health effects
  • Generate recommendations for preventing exposure using available resources and technologies
  • Develop a programme plan for addressing workplace hazards

The week-long course was attended by close to 90 participants from both public and private sectors. The majority of participants were South African, the largest group being from the Department of Public Service Administration (DPSA), followed by the Department of Health – both National and Gauteng Provincial. Two participants were from the National Department of Labour, and four participants were from African countries – Angola, Mali, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. A number of staff members from the NIOH and the NHLS also attended.
All participants who attended the full course were issued with attendance certificates on the last day. Furthermore, a certificate of competency (from the University of Illinois – Chicago and the NIOH, Johannesburg) will be issued to all participants scoring higher than 70% on post-course performance- and knowledge-based evaluations.

A CD of the full course was created as an Integrated E-Learning Platform – essentially a video recording of the presentations, to be used as a training tool by trainers for future capacity building. The E-Learning Platform initiative was spearheaded by Dr Barry Kistnasamy, Executive Director of the NIOH.

On completion of the course, the participants were equipped to:

  • Complete an occupational history
  • Recognize a work related injury or illness
  • Conduct a qualitative assessment of a workplace
  • Conduct an incident investigation
  • Categorize exposure groups
  • Complete an exposure and health effect rating chart
  • Develop a strategy for collecting quantitative data
  • Recommend intervention strategies for reducing exposure
  • Begin a programme plan for various workplaces

The course WHO Modules in OH is directly in line with the NIOH core function of conducting outreach and training activities to build capacity in occupational health and safety in southern Africa. Furthermore, the course had an inbuilt “train-the-trainer” component which will reinforce the capacity building benefit in the region. A number of trainers were identified from the participants; the trainers will continue working in close collaboration with the NIOH to implement this programme. The main objective will be to contribute to the development of scarce skills and resources in occupational and environmental health in the respective sectors.
This course is also directly in line with the overarching aims of the current WHO Global Network Plan for Occupational Health (2009-2012), which is driven by the Global Plan of Action (GPA) for Workers’ Health 2008-2017. The course is a project titled “Fundamentals of Occupational Health and Safety” within GPA Objective 2: Healthy Workplace Programmes, and more specifically within Priority 2.1: Develop practical toolkits for the assessment and management of occupational health risks (chemical, physical,