Safe work procedures

The Safety and Health at Work Act has replaced the Factories Act CAP. 347 as it relates to the operations of manufacturing enterprises vis a vis their employees and the processes and procedures to ensure the safety of the latter.

A factory is defined in section 2 of the act as “any premises in which or on which or within the close, cartilage or precincts of which, persons, whether or not self-employed, work in connection with any process for or incidental to:

(1) the slaughtering of cattle sheep, swine, goats, poultry or other livestock,

(ii) the confine of animals … pending their slaughter at other premises,

(iii) any chilling or refrigeration connected with any manufacturing process or bulk storage and preservation of meat or other food,

(iv) … includes any of the premises mentioned in paragraphs (b) to (n) in which persons are employed whether or not they are factories by virtue of this paragraph; (b) any yard or dry dock … in which ships or vessels are constructed [etcetera]”; and premises for (c) preliminary sorting (e) laundry or dry cleaning operations; (f) auto mechanics; (g) printing (i) construction of articles to be used in building or engineering; (j) storage of gas of more than 150 cubic metres; (k) pumping of water for public use, sewage or petrochemicals; (l) the making or packing of cloth; (m) making or mending fishing nets; or (n) agricultural purposes where machinery is used.

In keeping with the duty of an employer to maintain a safe system and place of work, section 11 sets out general provisions relating to the safety of employees in operating factory machinery. For example, dangerous parts of machinery must be fenced unless such machinery is placed in a position or constructed in a manner that it is as safe to every individual on the premises as if it were fenced.

This corollary does not extend to examination, adjustment and so on which can only be dealt with while the machinery is in motion. The First Schedule to the act specifies those mechanical processes to which section 11 does not apply and should be consulted by operators who frankly should have a personal copy of this legislation and the technical terms will be more familiar to such persons.

Section 18 further proscribes the cleaning or maintenance of any machine if it would expose the employee to injury from any moving parts or any adjacent machinery. Given the wording of this section one is unsure as to whether this is a direction to the employer to ensure that employees refrain from such behaviour or whether it is addressed to the employee and will result in contributory or other liability on the employee’s part in the case of a breach.

Since the commencement of the act, any machinery imported into Barbados for use in a factory must conform to a number of rules set out in section 14. Ensuring conformity prior to purchase and importation and certainly prior to installation and use by employees forms part of the general duty of the employer under section 6 to conduct a risk assessment.

Injury caused by such machinery will be met with full liability since ignorance of the law is no excuse and the burden of compliance rests squarely on the employer. Besides the obvious civil liability there is also the question of criminal liability with a fine of $500 or imprisonment for one month or both.

One feels compelled to state, however, that the monetary sums likely on a civil judgement would be far more of a deterrent than the penal sanctions specified in the act.

Even the second-hand market for machinery has not gone unnoticed and is now governed by section 15 of the act. The Chief Labour Officer must be notified of such a purchase with full particulars of the machinery and its ownership. The machines to which this provision apply are specified in the Second Schedule to the act running the full gamut and are too numerous to mention here but include machines for meat mincing, wire stitching machines and dough mixing, washing machines and garment presses.

Consistent with the general duty of an employer to train and supervise in section 6(6) (c), section 19 reiterates that duty in greater detail and specificity. Instruction should be given in relation to how the machine operates as well as its inherent dangers and the precautions to be observed. Nothing in the section however obviates the necessity for supervision by the employer even with the most experienced of employees.

Truly many of these provisions are grounded in commonsense and represent no departure from the previous legislation or for that matter the common law and should not strike fear in the heart of any employer/operator.

This act has 138 provisions and we will continue to address them.

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