In the pursuit of economic development, many nations are expanding and intensifying industrialisation processes. Industrial workers especially blue-collar workers are prone to a vast range of hazards resulting in chronic illness and diseases, whilst others lose their lives in the process.
These workplace hazards are attributable to a range of factors including physical activities, chemical exposures, fire outbreaks, and psychological stress. Most workers are exposed to hazardous substances which deteriorate their health; a case in point is the construction industry where long-term exposure to asbestos results in lung cancer.
Some of these workers are oblivious of the risk(s) involved, while others diagnosed of such ill-health resulting from work conditions are less inclined to complain due to fear of losing their job and thus their ends meet. This group of workers are faced with a conundrum; The curious but obvious question to ask is, do these workers choose salary over health or vice-versa?
If protests and industrial strikes are organised over negotiations for salary increment, why can’t workers protest for effective institution and implementation of health and safety policies and linked with results-oriented professional trainings?
According to International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million diseases recorded each year. With an estimated 2 million people dying every year from occupational accidents. These deaths in addition to workplace injuries lead to the 4% loss of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) recorded per annum.
Can we pause to consider that 4% of global economic output is wasted for deliberate negligence to protect lives? This confirms that the standard of occupational health and safety, the socioeconomic development of a country and the quality of life and well-being of working people are intrinsically connected (Linked).
Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is a right which must be enjoyed by all as clearly stipulated in Article 24 (1) of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, which provides that, “every person has the right to work under safe and healthy conditions”. Some Ghanaians are ignorant of OHS as human right therefore some companies take advantage and therefore expose workers to high levels of hazards resulting in accidents, injuries and chronic illnesses.
OHS management has been proven not to be cumbersome to institute at workplaces. The Health and Safety Executive has taken diligent, effective and efficient steps to simplify the Occupational Health and Safety Management (OHSM) corporate policy by streamlining the strategies into organisations’ management systems by introducing the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle approach.
However, one of the main reasons organisations find it difficult to integrate OHS management system is due to conflicting demands. The pressure of meeting targets and production output, including timescales set to achieve these targets versus the need to safely assess and address risks on every type of job to be undertaken are usually the trade-offs to contend with.
The risk assessment may be time-consuming but is necessary to prevent accidents and injuries and thus save organisational costs. With the occurrence of accidents that result in deaths or injuries, organisations could be subjected to regulatory fines, penalties, possible prosecution, financial and reputational brand damages. In addition, businesses could be confronted with cost of recruiting and training new personnel; compensate victim(s) which results in an increase in insurance premiums for ensuing year; also bear cost of repairing or replacing damaged equipment; lose existing and potential customers from production delay and damage to the organisation’s reputation.
Another barrier is the myth that Safety is expensive. The initial cost of setting up an OHS management system is high considering all the equipment and trainings involved in ensuring a secure and safe working environment and equipment.
The employer owes it a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their workers and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve a responsive, effective and efficient Health and Safety Policy. But the fact is accident and ill health cost money which may affect the profitability of the business in some cases may lead to business collapse.
The recent fire explosion that occurred at Madina Atomic Junction, is an example; lives and human capital were lost, the fuel station collapsed, equipment destroyed with irretrievable loss of lives and property.
No amount of compensation paid to victims can undo the psychological damage and physical disabilities that was suffered. They may live in misery and eventually die because of depression. This may even reduce the morale of people working at the fuel stations. There is huge unacceptable pain and suffering by the individuals and families affected.
In an article titled Prevention of Occupational Diseases and Injuries: Whose responsibility? April 2014, G.D Zaney the author, intimated that the then Ghana government was taking steps towards the finalization and implementation of a comprehensive National Occupational Health and Safety Policy which was being supported by ILO. It is observed that ILO is still progressing on work, and hopefully the National Occupational Health and Safety Policy would be implemented soon.
I urge all and sundry in the field of Occupational Health and Safety to advocate for this right and help in creating awareness, while entreating employers and employees to integrate occupational health and safety into their management systems. The benefits are enormous. I end with this, if you think health and safety is expensive; try Accident — (Anonymous)
Written by: Priscilla Addo
Priscilla Addo is a trained chemical engineer and a NEBOSH certified Health and Safety Practitioner.