The implementation of a mobile fingerprint-based time and attendance system has made it easier for Working on Fire (WoF) to verify days on duty to facilitate payment of the 4700-plus fire fighters operating from 160 bases countrywide. The system is supplied by ERS Biometrics.
WoF is a government funded Expanded Public Works Programme, launched in 2003. The programme is managed by a private company, FFA Operations, which in turn is part of the FFA Group of Companies. WoF also operates internationally in Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, Australia, North and South America, and Europe. As the salary bill of some 5000 employees, from fire fighters to managerial personnel is paid by the Department of Environmental Affairs, the requirement is for strict checks and balances on payroll claims.
Trevor Abrahams, MD of FFA Operations, says that this award-winning programme not only provides an essential service, but also much needed job creation and social upliftment. Young men and women are recruited from marginalised communities to bases situated within 5 kilometres from where they live. “Some 85% of our recruits are under 35 years old with 50% between the age of 18 to 25. Women make up 33% of our total fire fighters, the highest percentage of female fire fighters in the world.”
At the training academy in Nelspruit, recruits undergo 21 days of intensive training. The academy also offers 41-day advanced courses for specialised fire-fighting-related skills and crew leader training. To ensure that the units remain self-sufficient, other courses such as first aid, chain saw operation, chef and general life skills are provided.
The programme operates on several levels to provide an integrated wildfire management structure. It works in close co-operation with partners such as Cape Nature, SAN Parks, forestry companies, Eskom and registered Fire Protection Associations (FPAs), where landowners are organised in associations, to predict, prevent and manage wildland fire risks in a defined area.
During quiet seasons, crews are used in fire prevention such as burning firebreaks and clearing fuel loads. WoF also runs fire awareness programmes at local schools and communities by helping rural people to understand fire with emphasis on prevention and suppression.
IT executive manager for FFA Group of Companies, Ancil Lee, explained that the Biometrics T&A systems would run in parallel to the manual timesheet system currently used to enable comparative verification on payroll claims, as well as serve as a failover in the event of a disruption in service of the automated system.
ERS is to supply a total 227 fingerprint devices that have the dual advantage of either being used as a mobile unit or fixed in a tamperproof enclosure on bases.
“I thoroughly researched available fingerprint systems. The ERS devices met our criteria in a much-needed robust design for working in our harsh environments, the capability to work on remote locations via GPRS and the capacity to identify the fire fighters from multiple fingerprints.”
With the existing manual system, crew leaders capture the data on timesheets on a daily basis which is sent to the regional managers and then to the GM for the province for sign off before being sent to the payroll team for processing.
Lee noted that as it is a government requirement that there is payroll verification and sign-off before upload into the payroll system, the T&A process cannot be fully automated. “Once signed off, the ERS Biometrics T&A system will produce a file that will be uploaded into the payroll system. This means that there will not be a need for recapturing or further human intervention to move the data from the T&A system into the payroll system.”
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