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Safety at the workplace

by Shamkoe Pilé

Knowing how to respond in an emergency is key to occupational safety. Whether the emergency is a fire, an earthquake, or simply a drill, it is essential that all employees are aware of the emergency procedures of their organisations.

Simply put, in an emergency, seconds count and knowing what to do and being able to execute these tasks could save lives and prevent injury. Adequate arrangements for responding to emergencies in the workplace is therefore and important aspect of the Safety and Health at Work Act which came into effect on January 1.

Some of these arrangements include identifying escape routes, conducting fire drills, outfitting the workplace with a first aid kit and training staff in emergency response. These details should be outlined in the company’s safety policy as well as in the emergency action plan, a document which outlines the procedures that employers and employees must take during an emergency.

Communication is essential to the process. This must be done in a manner in which everyone in the organisation can understand. Access to information may also be enhanced by prominently posting the emergency action plan in the office or workplace.

Telephone numbers for the ambulance service, the fire service and the police should be posted on the notice boards as well as by individual telephones. In an effort to keep workers informed, some organisations disseminate weekly emergency tips and reminders on employees’ payslips.

Regarding evacuation, it is necessary for buildings to have at least two escape routes which are accessible from all parts of the premises. In some cases, a single escape route is acceptable but this depends on the nature of the activities conducted, as well as the number of people using the premises.

Equally important is that exit doors on escape routes and final exit doors should open in the direction of travel, quickly and easily, without the need for a key. Passageways such as corridors or stairways along the escape route should be kept clear and hazard free at all times.

Under the SHaW Act, fire safety provisions apply to all businesses. Fire officers as well as Safety and Health Officers of the Labour Department have the right to conduct unannounced workplace visits.

All organisations are required to have a certificate of fire escape, a means of fire warning, conduct fire drills and have fire fighting equipment on location. Fire fighting equipment should also be easily accessible at all times. This could include fire extinguishers, fire blankets, hose reels and sprinkler systems. However, fire fighting equipment should be selected based on the type of fire hazard present in the workplace.

Fire extinguishers should be clearly visible to workers. They should be hung on a wall with the top of the extinguisher approximately one metre above floor level. Workers should also be trained to use fire fighting equipment.

An automatic fire detection system or fire alarm should be installed to allow for the notification of fire, in the event that one occurs. The system which should be audible and visible should be tested at least once every three months.

Personal injuries may also be considered emergencies; consequently, all workplaces are required to have a fully stocked first aid kit. The SHaW Act states that a sufficient number of employees should be trained in first aid.

A list of the items for the first aid kit is available at the Labour Department, Warrens Office Complex, St. Michael. Persons may also visit the Ministry of Labour’s website at or call 310-1500.

Shamkoe Pilé

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