Why changing the Q in “SHEQ” Matters

It may seem mundane, but changing the meaning of a single letter in an acronym, creates a complete new thought process; a paradigm shift. And when it comes to SHEQ, a paradigm shift is desperately needed to ensure the protection of a nation’s workforce. Since the adoption of SHEQ, predominantly in Southern Africa, employers have created a “systems” approach to managing their workforce, but globally, the shift is moving towards a new Q; Quality of Life

Quality Management is a system that ensures conformity of a product, process or service, to a set series of procedures to steer a specific outcome. But under no circumstances would it guarantee that the people involved in delivering this outcome experience quality of life.

Products are created by people. Services are delivered by people. And despite having an ISO9001 certificate on the wall, many employers are using modern slavery to achieve their goals. Profits takes precedent over people. People are injured, killed, over-worked, underpaid, abused, threatened, harassed and replaced, but the ISO certificate is still valid. And consumers and business buyers are comfortably numb to the harsh reality behind the products they buy.

Quality of Life on the other hand is a people’s approach to business. Caring for the people that makes profits possible is more valuable than any other asset.

For this reason, is shifting its focus to the Quality of Life of the African workforce, its employers and their communities.

Modern Slavery

According to the Global Slavery Index, released in 2016, an estimated 9.2 million men, women, and children were living in modern slavery in Africa. The region has the highest rate of prevalence, with 7.6 people living in modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the region.

When considering the forms of modern slavery, the rate of forced marriage (4.8 victims per 1,000 people in the region) was higher than the rate of forced labour (2.8 victims per 1,000 people in the region).

Over half of all victims of forced labour exploitation (54 percent) were held in debt bondage, with similar proportions of men and women in the region trapped through debt. An estimated 400,000 people in the region were victims of forced sexual exploitation, accounting for eight percent of all victims of forced sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation of children worldwide.

Within the region, Eritrea, Burundi, and Central African Republic were the countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery; however, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had the highest absolute number and accounted for over one-quarter (26.3 percent) of all victims in the region.

These regional figures, while important, should be interpreted cautiously given the gaps and limitations of data in certain countries. For example, it is not possible to survey in countries that are experiencing profound and current conflict, such as Libya, South Sudan, and parts of Nigeria. The lack of data from countries experiencing conflict means that modern slavery estimates in these countries are likely to understate the problem.1

Psycho-social wellbeing

At work, deadlines, KPI’s, product demands, budgets, etc are all adding to the stress levels of business owners and directors. This stress cannot stay at the top, and filters down to the shop floor. As a result, the entire workforce is affected. And while the cause of these pressures may be varied, and often caused by public outcry or competitive disadvantage, it is still a reality in most modern businesses.

The more daring and open-minded employers, have seen the signs and have developed programs to reduce stress in the workplace, which yielded a positive and productive workforce.


For decades, SHEQ was too focused on “systems” and have ignored the critical influence of poor designs, lack of automation, and labour intensive production systems on the human body. The landscape is however changing with many jurisdictions in Africa introducing a regulatory framework to prevent musculo-skeletal disorders and other pathologies of the mechanized world. Even a little thing like a “5 minute stand up from your laptop and stop typing” goes a long way in relieving stress on the human body.


China leads the global market with more than 300 000 companies carrying ISO 9001 certification. This is according to a report on Reseachgate, published by Asif Kahn. Yet when it comes to the protection of people and their rights, China ranks 130th in the world. So while they hold the Nr 1 position for QMS, they fall dismally short in the EBP ranking.

“ISO proves one thing, and one thing only. You can produce any crap, as long as you do it consistently”. Unknown.


Cheslyn Koopman
Cheslyn is a Senior Health and Safety professional with an extensive safety, construction and fire background gained in the steel manufacturing, nuclear generation, food manufacturing and a research institution. After years of leading and setting strategic direction for all safety related matters for South African manufacturing plants and a global construction and facilities management company is now the senior consultant for all Health and Safety matters at a fully autonomous world leading Nuclear Power Plant in the Middle East.