Integrated Occupational Health and Safety Management in South African Tanneries

[this project is one of the feeder attribute components of the crade-to-grave blockchain for leather provenance]

The need for management systems in industry

The current business environment is characterized by fast and unexpected changes as a result of increased population, economic growth and environmental impacts. This has resulted in a shift from companies focusing solely on production. The success of companies now depend heavily on its ability to provide skilled labour and product quality therefore the needs of the employees, the environment and customers have to be considered and measured to ensure legislative compliance, competitiveness, continuous improvement and sustainability

As companies grow larger or more complex, it becomes harder to maintain consistency in the operation of informal management systems therefore in order to achieve these objectives, it is important for organizations to adopt and formalise management systems that proactively address quality, safety and environmental issues in the workplace and surroundings

Implementing an OHS management system will proactively facilitate safe working condition; protect co-workers, their family members, employers, customers, suppliers, nearby communities and other members of the public who are impacted by the work place environment

The need for OHS management in Leather Production

Leather production entails converting raw hide, a highly putrescible material, into leather, a stable material, which can be used in the manufacture of a wide range of products. The process involves a sequence of complex chemical reactions and mechanical processes which are facilitated by workers and will therefore impact their OHS. At many stages of the process waste, chemicals and other materials are discharged into effluent streams and may also impact health of employees and surrounding communities

The Need for OHS management in the South African leather industry

South Africa has enabled itself to be a major contributor to the leather industry by establishing an integrated supply chain from importing of hides and skins, processing in tanneries and distributing of various products to customers in both domestic and export markets.

Table 1 : Growth Potential for the South African Leather and Footwear industry 
Investment Value ( billion ZAR) 2011 2016 Growth Growth %
Output 12.0 13.4 +1.4 +12%
Domestic 9.1 10.8 +1.7 +20%
Exports 2.2 4.9 +2.7 +123%
Formal Employment 13926 15996 +2070 +15%
Capital investment ( 2016-2020) R1.7bn
Capital investment (GBP)

(17 ZAR/GPB)


One of the proposed investment opportunities comes in the form of a Leather Processing Hub that will be situated in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) South Africa. KZN houses one of the largest shoe manufacturing companies in South Africa called Dick-Whittington Shoes. KZN accounts for 70% of footwear production in South Africa and 40 % comprises of leather upper

The proposed layout encompasses integrating multiple leather processing units, outlets and leather auxiliary factories in one location. Highlights include a new effluent treatment plant, training facilities, facilities for shoes, garment and, furniture and ample parking space.

Advantages of The KZN Leather Hub include:

  • Easy access to leather raw materials as KZN has the largest number of cattle
  • Tanneries never retain stock due to high demand
  • Direct contact with leather producers
  • Reduced freight costs, customs, clearing and forwarding costs

Sunderland’s tannery is seen as a major contributor and stakeholder to the development of the hub which will involve interaction with stakeholders, community as well as creation of employment.  More employment encompasses greater risk with regards to ensuring a safe and healthy workplace.

This, together with the existing demand for leather regarding the domestic, import and export market highlights the opportunity and need for integrating an OHS management system in South African tanneries.

The objectives will be to investigate current OHS management practices at Sunderland’s tannery , compare and contrast OHS management systems across South African tanneries , determine the possibility to benchmark OHS management practices across South African tanneries and finally establish and recommend best suitable method for integrating OHS management across South African tanneries.

This will be carried out using qualitative analysis and guidance from ISO 18001 across different tanneries in South Africa.