September 28, 2016

Conformity to Occupational Health and Safety

Guyana is joining the rest of the world in observing Occupational Health and Safety Month under the theme “Workplace Stress: A Collective Challenge.”

Creditably, even as this is being observed, the Department of Labour in the Social Protection Ministry has also announced that it will be increasing workplace inspections countrywide.  This is to ensure employers are adhering to the labour laws and are in full compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations.

Guyana’s OHS laws have developed significantly over the years with continuous amendments over time that sought to improve the conditions of workers.

Globally, the fight for better workplace environment and laws to protect workers was not approved and presented itself on a platter but rather achieved through struggles of trade unions and worker rights activists who championed the workers’ cause. These struggles have resulted in a more safe and healthy workplaces.

Nonetheless, OSH is still a burning issue globally as the new struggle is now to have employers comply with the laws. This is a major issue, especially in countries like Guyana, where there needs to be more policing of employers to ensure conformity with the law.

The ILO in its most recent report titled, “World Employment Social Outlook,” stated that global economic slowdown that occurred in 2015 is likely to have a delayed impact on labour markets in 2016, resulting in a rise in unemployment levels, particularly in emerging economies.

Based on the most recent growth projections, global unemployment is expected to rise by nearly 2.3 million in 2016 and by a further 1.1 million in 2017.

Emerging economies are expected to see an increase in unemployment of 2.4 million in 2016. This highlights the great probability that more persons will cling to their jobs and may be more prone to accept default of employers with respect to the OHS laws. As such more frequent workplace inspections are necessary.

In Guyana, the most high-risk sectors of OHS flouters are the agriculture, construction and mining industries. The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report into the death of miner Trenton Sebastian who died when a mining pit collapsed at Mahdia some two weeks ago pointed out that the lack of job opportunities in Guyana has led to many persons ‘running high risk’ in the mining industry.

As a matter of fact Major General (ret’d) Joseph Singh, in heading the Inquiry and tasked with investigating the incident, stated that from the findings there is a great need for educating miners on the dangers they face in the sector.

It is necessary that everyone involved in these critical industries – agriculture, construction, mining – be certified and actively engaged in basic health and safety training on an annual basis. As such managers within these industries must have clear and certified Occupational Health and Safety qualifications.

Workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses cost the countries large amounts of lost revenues yearly, Guyana being no different. As such while economics can support decision-making, effective management and policing of employers’ conformity to the Occupational Health and Safety (Guyana) Act is critical since it encompasses the protection of both the rights and health of workers.

As such as Guyana observes OSH this year, the Labour Department within the Social Protection Ministry should seek to actively inspect workplaces to ensure enforcement of the OHS laws of Guyana.

Additionally, employers should also be enlightened on health and safety requirements at the workplace. Those flouting this most important piece of legislation should therefore face the brunt of the law with no room for discretion. The struggle for this particular area has been a hard fought fight and as such in this advancing world, Guyana should not allow its workers’ rights to be disregarded.

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