Ford South Africa has reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the national government’s COVID-19 initiatives by donating R2.5-million to help fund the enhancement of the National Occupational Health Surveillance System (OHSS) – a program implemented by the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH).
The OHSS monitors workers in the public and private sectors, using data supplied by employers on COVID-19 infections in the workplace under the direction of the Department of Employment and Labour. The data helps to identify industries and occupational groups at risk of infection and analyses the impact on industries and occupational groups. The data is used to inform appropriate interventions – including policies, programs or resources – to mitigate the spread of the disease.
Experts from the NIOH – which is a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, a public entity of the National Department of Health (NDoH) – have been leading the country on COVID-19 workplace guidelines and procedures, surveillance, online training and education as well as research. The team has produced various educational and awareness materials to cater for all categories of employers and employees. While the current focus is primarily on COVID-19, the OHSS has been developed to monitor all occupational diseases.
“The COVID-19 pandemic hit the people of South Africa extremely hard, whether directly through suffering the effects of the disease or losing loved ones, and by virtue of the long-term economic fallout and resulting job losses,” says Neale Hill, MD of Ford South Africa. “It became abundantly clear during this global health crisis that we need a coordinated, data-driven and strategic approach to understanding and handling the pandemic, and targeting specific areas of concern.
“Therefore, helping fund the NIOH surveillance system with the R2.5-million donation is the logical next step in our commitment to partnering with national government as it rolls out this project to ensure that the country is better equipped and resourced to manage this health crisis, and any others that may follow,” Hill says.
Dr Spo Kgalamono, executive director of the NIOH, acknowledged Ford’s R2.5-million donation as a valuable contribution to support the crucial work being done. “We are extremely touched by this generous donation from Ford and thank you for the support in this war against COVID-19,” she says.
“The OHSS project is a huge task considering its national scale and potential coverage of workplaces with greater than 50 workers. It requires a dedicated and experienced team, human and physical resources, technological advances and expertise, as well as training and awareness to meet the requirements of the system. Ford’s contribution has truly helped the NIOH and South Africa immensely,” Dr Kgalamono adds. “Currently the system that is developed is a pilot programme, the first of its kind in South Africa, that gathers occupational health intelligence to ultimately protect workers’ health.
“The development of the OHSS arose as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was a joint development between the CSIR and NIOH. This donation will assist the institute by improving and maintaining the hardware; upgrading and further development of operating systems and data visualisation; as well as the development and provision of data links with the employers in the formal sector,” Kgalamono says. “The reports are presented at the national occupational health workstream meetings in the National Department of Health COVID-19 response as well as to trade unions, employer and community groups in NEDLAC.”
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit South Africa in March 2020, Ford has played an important role in assisting and empowering its employees and suppliers, the National Department of Health and several non-profit organisations across the country – and the donation towards the OHSS further bolsters the company’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“COVID-19 dramatically impacted the way Ford does business in South Africa and around the world, and we are delighted to partner with the NIOH to help bolster the Occupational Health Surveillance System,” explains Dhiren Vanmali, executive director of Government Affairs, Ford International Markets Group.
“This initiative extends our support for the National Department of Health which began during the COVID-19 lockdown last year. Our Silverton Assembly Plant team transformed its production facilities to manufacture over 285 000 face shields, with almost 140 000 donated to the government for distribution to frontline healthcare workers across South Africa, and approximately 7 000 supplied directly to humanitarian organisations,” Vanmali says.
Ford established dedicated Flu Clinics and extensive screening and testing procedures at its Silverton and Struandale plants to ensure that manufacturing employees were able to safely return to work and resume production, equipped with all of the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). The majority of the company’s sales and marketing staff were equipped to work remotely from the start of lockdown, and continue to do so. Ford also worked closely with the NDoH on its return-to-work policies and procedures, and shared important employee screening data to help guide industry interventions.
“We also secured grants from Ford Motor Company Fund for Unjani Clinics to distribute educational materials, face masks and hand sanitisers for taxi commuters, and provided loan vehicles to several NPOs across the country, including Gift of the Givers Foundation, the SA Red Cross Society and Laudium Disaster Management to ensure their mobility to reach and assist the hardest-hit communities across South Africa,” Vanmali adds.
Furthermore, Ford’s COVID-19 Employee Donation Match Program, initiated by the Ford Motor Company Fund, contributed more than R17-million to help community organisations in their relief efforts in 20 countries – with Gift of the Givers receiving funds to distribute food and cleaning supplies to low-income South Africans. Additionally, the organisation used the grant to establish screening tents at more than 180 hospitals and clinics across the country, and 120 000 food parcels were distributed.