The Safety First Association is launched
The year was 1932 and the growth of Johannesburg had been phenomenal, mostly because of its proximity to the mines. Parallel to the mining activities of this fledgling town was a burgeoning industrial sector.
Sir Ernest Oppenheimer soon realised the need to introduce more stringent safety regulations on the mines as more and more of the workers were either being injured at work, or all too often suffering fatal accidents. Together with the mayor of Johannesburg, they motivated the need for a safety association to disseminate information on safety. Through their efforts, the Safety First Association was born.
Uptil the 1950s, the Association continued to be supported by well-known industrialists such as Sir Ernest Oppenheimer and members of parliament.
Since those early days, the association has continued to play an important role in the safety education of South Africa.
The aim of the Safety First Association was to teach the principles of safety, not only to workers, but also safety off the job which included home and traffic safety. This was achieved mainly through the launching of their magazine “ Safety First” which later become known as “Industrial Safety” and then “National Safety” and which has been published regularly since its first issue.
The early focus of the association was on traffic safety which was becoming a major problem. Cars were suddenly everywhere. Whereas people had been able to stroll slowly across streets, they suddenly had to be aware that a car may be approaching. Pedestrians had to be trained in road safety and to look out for cars before crossing the roads. Drivers had to learn about safe driving - they had to be aware of pedestrians, other cars and animals. Things that we take for granted today, were foreign in those days - such as being taught to look left, right and left again when crossing roads.
To assist the citizens of the country learn about traffic safety, the SFA introduced a “safe driving scheme” where the winners and participants were awarded certificates, diplomas and gold bars. In the ‘40s the SFA awarded a gold bar for 12 years of accident-free driving. In the 50s the SFA produced a road safety film titled “Commonsense behind the wheel”. The association actively tried to assist in lowering road carnage. In the 60s, the campaign for wearing car seat belts was gaining momentum, and “National Safety” published many articles such as the one titled “Holidays are what you make them. Make them safer with safety belts”.
Parallel growth to the South Africa and world affairs
The Safety First’s growth has paralelled that of South Africa as well as world events. During WW2, “Industrial Safety” reported on problems being experienced in industry when many of the workers had gone off to war such as the subject of women at work who were filling in for the men and included comments such as “Supervisors should be sympathetic and understanding regarding the limitations of skill and knowledge of the new industrial workers, the women”. After the war the magazine reported on post war problems in industrial accident prevention and how to deal with the disabled soldier when returning to work. When television was introduced in South Africa in 1975 National Safety devoted an entire issue to it. Even The Star newspaper quoted from this issue which discussed various TV hazards and dangers such as lightning, ventilation and fire hazards. In the 70s when fashion dictated that women wear high heels National Safety reported that “platform shoes may drive you to death”. Crime which has been a major problem in South Africa, was also covered in National Safety - in the 70s bank robberies and shoplifting was given attention.
Conferences and exhibitions
The Safety First Association has also been involved with either organising or participating in several conferences and exhibitions. In 1937 a safety and health exhibition was held in Durban and in 1938 they introduced a safety week which was celebrated throughout the country. In 1975 they organised the “Keep alive in 75” exhibition in Sandton City. Over the last decade the Association has partnered with its other associations to form NOSHEBO to run a conference - amongst other activities - which has become an important networking opportunity for the industry.
The Safety First Association has always used various literature and printed media as the way to impart its message - and not only through National Safety. To train school children about safety, they introduced a poster competition. In the 1980s Barbara Campbell, the secretary at the time introduced the Cartoon Safety Booklets. She believed that although safety is a very serious subject, she wanted to show that safety can be fun. Hundreds of thousands of these booklets have been sold and covered subjects such as “Safety on Site” and “Safety is Teamwork” to name a few. At the same time she expanded the range of posters. The Safety First which currently publishes about 20 sets on all subject matters such as “Health in the food industry”, “Safety in the construction industry”, “The correct use of PPE” etc. The Safety Cartoon Calendar was first published in 1983. And in 1995 The Directory of Safety Products and Services was launched and has become an extremely popular service to the industry.
Over the years the Safety First Association has forged relationships with other safety associations such as the Institute of Safety Management, The Southern African Institute for Occupational Hygiene, The Southern African Protective Equipment Marketing Association - all of these professional associations have appointed National Safety as their official mouthpiece.