Safety at work

There is an aspect of the law of tort which places on the owners or occupiers a duty to ensure the safety of persons who enter onto their premises. Similarly there has historically been a common law duty on the part of employers to ensure the wellbeing of their employees while at work.

The Safety and Health at Work Act, passed by Parliament since 2005 entered into force by proclamation of the Governor General on January 1, 2013 and lays down the law as it relates to employee safety while on the job, amongst other things.

The introduction to the act states that its objectives are “securing the health, safety and welfare of persons at work; … protecting other persons against risks to health and safety in connection with the activities of persons at work; … controlling certain emissions into the environment; … [consolidating] the law relating to health, safety and welfare in the workplace; and for related matters”.

The scope of this legislation is vast in that it applies as stipulated in Section 3 “to all workplaces in Barbados” save and except the Royal Barbados Police Force or Barbados Defence Force, the master and crew of a ship or persons specifically exempted by order of the minister with responsibility for labour. The definition of what constitutes a workplace is equally as wide and can be anywhere in Barbados where persons are employed except a private house with only domestic workers.

A number of general duties for the breach of which an employer or occupier may be found liable is set out in Part II of the act. For example, a risk assessment must be carried out in relation to any equipment, substance etcetera for use in the workplace with a view to minimising or eliminating the risk of injury or damage to the health and safety of employees (Section 6) and the duty to assess such risk is ongoing.

The general duty of the employer/occupier to “ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare” of all employees while engaged in their employment includes but is not limited to: (1) the provision and maintenance of a safe place of work and proper systems or procedures; (2) training and supervision; and (3) adherence to ergonomic standards (e.g. proper seating).

Section 7 further requires an occupier to ensure that his business is conducted in a manner that does not impair the health and safety of the public at large. Ostensibly this would include ensuring for example that noxious substances and toxins are not emitted from factories in the surrounding area and so on.

At least one aspect of Barbados’ labour law as it relates to women specifically has entered the current century. In keeping with section 6 (7) where a female produces a medical certificate confirming a pregnancy, her working conditions must be adapted accordingly, including prohibition on exposure to dangerous chemicals for the duration of her pregnancy and for six months thereafter. The employee must be offered suitable alternate employment on conditions no less favourable.

Rights and responsibilities tend to go hand in hand and employees are required by Section 9 to (1) take care for their own safety and the safety of others who will be affected by their acts or omissions; (2) cooperate with the employer to allow the employer to comply with its statutory duties; (3) report contraventions of the legislation which come to his attention; and (4) use any protective clothing or equipment provided. Failure to comply with any of the listed duties is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of $500 and/or imprisonment for one month.

While the interpretation of this legislation will be left to the judiciary, guidance will be provided by previous cases which can be used as persuasive authority before the court. At common law, every employer has a duty to provide each employee with a safe place of work and system of working and these terms (which appear in the statute) have been defined over the years and will depend on the circumstances of each case.

There are 138 sections of this act and the provisions relating to industrial situations are wide and varied and must be examined in another article.

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