In collaboration with Julie Hills of SATS Services and President of the SAIOH
Being a major asbestos producer and exporter historically, South Africa has born the brunt of the health consequences of asbestos. It has one of the highest incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world, even though the condition is likely vastly underreported.
South Africa has also had – and continues to have – a hand in our progress towards tackling asbestos-related disease. It was a South African pathologist – Christopher Wagner – who demonstrated that asbestos can cause certain types of cancer many years after initial exposure. His article on the subject became the most quoted paper in occupational medicine history.
Today, significant steps are being taken in South Africa to protect people from the heightened risk of asbestos exposure, especially at work. SAIOH (South African Institute of Occupational Health) and its predecessor IOHSA have been raising awareness since 1976.
Most recently, experts in the country have been exploring ways of delivering high-quality asbestos training for asbestos analysts. Training programs and qualifications already established overseas were an obvious direction, however, the adverse exchange rate from the rand to most other currencies made this prohibitively expensive.
Gully Howard Technical had, for some times, been in conversation with Julie Hills of SAIOH to discuss ways of assisting with this. In February 2019, GHT’s Phil Sloan – Technical Manager and trainer extraordinaire – made the five-and-a-half-thousand-mile journey to give a series of training courses modelled on the P401 course. This included cooperation with SAIOH in developing a suitable exam structure to ensure that delegates would leave the course with suitable, standardised knowledge of asbestos analysis techniques and practical experience.
The endeavour has been a resounded success. The cooperation between organisations meant that we were able to trial new assessment systems, that once finalised through all necessary parties, successful participants will be issued not only with attendance certificates, but with an SAIOH accredited qualification certificate for the module.
Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Julie Hills said of Phil that he was “exceptionally professional and he worked long hours to share his knowledge and experience”. Many of the delegates were already involved in bulk analysis but were all largely self-taught due to the absence of available training. Many of them remarked how valuable Phil’s extensive experience was:
“For me, I think it’s mostly getting the knowledge from someone international, and getting to compare notes to see what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong, so it actually helps improve us in terms of skills. And the tips that you gave us in terms of the microscope and how to do the sample prep, I think that was very good.” – Bofana Training delegate)
During his time there, Phil also gained some interesting insights. Asbestos has been banned in South Africa since 2008. However, one of the delegates told of how asbestos is still mined in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and carried on trains running through South Africa. He reported that there are stretches of rail track which are blue from crocidolite!
Plenty of opportunity remains for GHT to work with the health and safety organisation of South Africa to improve the standards of surveying and analysis. It is hoped that, in the future, a form of the P402 (Surveying and Sampling techniques)
South African wildlife
Being a keen diver and general adventure enthusiast, Phil did plenty of exploring when the training was over. His photographs suggest that the country made as much of an impression on him as he did on his trainees.
To find out more about Gully Howard Technical training courses via our training pages click HERE