Hazards at work
Last week I had the privilege of addressing a morning seminar on Occupational Safety and Health in which I stated that OSH would, in the very near future, no longer be an option, but in fact would be the law of the land, and that management, in fact the country as a whole, would now need to start obeying that law. Strong words in any forum, but undeniable regardless of the source.
I have been writing extensively on this subject, examining some of the many aspects of this very complicated subject. The common catalyst was the question of whether or not the act would be proclaimed in January 2013 as has been stated by various government sources and how it would affect all workers.
However in looking ahead to 2013 and examining the consequences of the act’s proclamation, there are a number of provocative questions that must be addressed as a result of the proclamation.
Come January, the following must be addressed by both private and public sectors: What are management’s OSH planning milestones? What are the expected deliverables of management and the OSH committee? How do the private and public sectors address known hazard risks and determine training issues? What is the planning timeline for resolving these issues? What are the next immediate steps expected of management?
The first milestone is the conceptualisation of OSH. That concept has to include the protection and promotion of the health of workers by preventing and controlling occupational diseases and accidents and by eliminating those factors and conditions that impact safety and health. Then there is the development of healthy and safe work environments and promotion of an OSH culture in the workplace.
Management will be required to enhance the physical, mental and social services of workers, while maintaining their working capacities as professionals at work. The concept will also require a policy to facilitate the enablement of workers to conduct socially and economically productive lives and to contribute positively to sustainable development.
In establishing OSH committees, it is critically important that management recognises that in appointing persons to an OSH committee, that they possess the knowledge, competence, and have the authority to take action on committee decisions. They will have to train and prepare an OSH committee. One of the most effective tools of assistance that management can offer to such committees would be in-house training, and management will be required to facilitate and certify that training.
The long-term success of the OSH committee will, among other things, be dependent on the quality of training it receives to support their activities. And because of their training and acquired experience, certified committee members will have a special role in all OSH activities in the workplace.
What are the expected deliverables of management and the OSH committee? One such deliverable will be the conducting of job hazard analyses, which must include identifying problems and opportunities for correction, examining jobs with the highest injury or illness rates; examining jobs with the potential to cause severe or disabling injuries or illness to the worker — even if there is no history of previous accidents; examining jobs in which one simple human error could lead to a severe accident or injury; examining jobs that are new to the company’s operation or have undergone changes in processes and procedures; and jobs complex enough to require written instructions.
If management, under the law, will now be required to address known and unknown hazards, they will first have to establish a working definition that is applicable to their particular working environment. A working definition that includes a hazard’s potential for harm. In practical terms, a hazard often is associated with a condition or activity that, if left uncontrolled, can result in an injury or illness.
That hazard can be chemical (toxic, corrosive, flammable, explosive, (over pressurisation). It can be electrical. It can also be ergonomic — more than half of Barbados’ working population from time to time, complain of varying pains and aches that may be attributed to ergonomics. A hazard can also be physical, such as excavations, falls, fires, temperature loss; and mechanical — vibrations from machinery. That analysis will also have to define hazards by category: biological, chemical, ergonomic, physical, psychosocial, and safety hazards (slipping/tripping hazards, inappropriate machine guarding, equipment malfunctions or breakdowns).
One of the most immediate steps that will be expected of management will be establishing OSH committees, assessing health hazards and safety risks, and determining the appropriate standards to support work place safety. The act does not dictate how hazard risk assessments should be conducted but they must be done. The act also does not define OSH committees’ goals; however committees will be required to do the following:
* Promote acceptance of health and safety policy.
* Assist in developing health and safety rules and standards.
* Conduct job safety analysis.
* Assess the safety potential of new equipment, procedures and materials.
* Establish procedures to investigate accidents, incidents and occupational illnesses.
* Ensur that worker health and safety training is conducted. Management must certify that the employee is competent to carry out his or her duties.
* Obtain information about health and safety testing.
* Be consulted prior to tests of equipment, machines or the work environment, and be present at the beginning of such testing.
* Must be consulted about proposed industrial hygiene testing strategies and be present at the beginning of such testing.
* Must receive copies of assessment reports and to be consulted about assessment methods for designated substances.
* Investigate accidents that result in critical injuries or fatalities.
On some occasions, I have been accused of promoting “doom and damnation” because of my strong views on disaster preparedness and the blatant complacency exhibited by some in the Barbadian society in recognising hazards and their preparing for a hazard’s eventual impact on their lives. I have the same views on occupational safety and health.
In this regard, I am advising both private and public sector that they must begin to consider these five planning issues before they are forced to switch to “scramble mode”. They must identify any and all workplace hazards and their projected impact on employees. They must have access to all knowledge bases relevant to that hazard, its risks and mitigation methods for that hazard.
They must also Identify what can be done to remove the hazard and determine whether the process will be a permanent solution. And they must be prepared to accept the company’s financial responsibilities to the removal of, and or mitigation of that hazard.
In January 2013, Occupational Safety and Health, if it has a personality, will no longer allow itself to be ignored or be placed on the bottom of the private and public sector list of priorities. It will now be law and it will demand that it no longer be ignored or treated as a “second class citizen”.