It is the sole responsibility of employers to ensure the safety and health of their employees by preventing their exposure to occupational risks
Dr Agaba Marianna Nyangire
Occupational Safety and Health is an interdisciplinary field of science that is concerned with protection, promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of the general well-being of workers. This speciality of public health mainly looks at protection of the health of workers from diseases and injuries from hazardous work-related exposures and improvement of the work environment so that no harm befalls one who is trying to earn a living.
In Uganda, the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Department in the Directorate of Labour under the Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Development is the custodian of OSH issues in the country. With the given mandate to evaluate and control the physical, chemical, physiological, social and technical factors that affect a person at work and the work environment, the department administers and enforces the OSH Act, No.9 2006 and its subsidiary legislation.
According to ILO, approximately 2.3 million deaths result from occupational injuries or diseases while 160 million people suffer from occupational diseases alone, annually. Similarly, over 300 million workers are involved in non-fatal occupational accidents causing serious injuries and at least four days of absence from work, annually; this translates into 153 workers every 15 seconds. Together, fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries result in about 10.5 million Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs); that is, about 3.5 years of healthy life are lost per 1,000 workers every year globally.
It is important to observe that there is under-reporting of these cases especially in developing countries like Uganda so these statistics are quite underestimated. Existence of under-reporting results from the failure to recognize the work-related origins of diseases and injuries.
Safety and Health not only concerns workers, their families and communities but also businesses, as well as an individual country and global economies whose performance depends on maintaining workplace safety. "Safety in Numbers", one of the highest-profile publications of the ILO in the area of Occupational Safety and Health, suggests that 4 per cent of global income is lost due to occupational injuries and illnesses.
Accidents at work result in loss of skilled and unskilled but experienced labour, material loss, i.e. damage to machinery and equipment as well as spoiled products, costs of medical care, payment of compensation and repairing or replacing damaged machinery and equipment.
Hazards in the workplace create both economic and human costs. A recent incident of an explosion at a factory in Banda, Kampala, left one dead and six people injured; a clear reminder about the importance of having a system at the workplace which protects workers from similar accidents and fatalities.
It is the sole responsibility of employers to ensure the safety and health of their employees by preventing their exposure to occupational risks including all machinery, processes, chemicals and substances and thus avoiding the occurrence of such occupational diseases and injuries that may even result into disability.
To achieve this goal, employers should train workers in the use of equipment and machinery, provide adequate and appropriate personal protective equipment without any charge. Adequate supervision is also paramount as well as implementing measures to reduce excessive mental and physical fatigue so as to prevent ‘burn out'.
Despite Occupational Safety and Health being an obligation for employers at workplaces, awareness about it must involve the general public at large given that a big proportion of it constitutes the workforce which contributes to our economic growth. If knowledge about the importance of Occupational Safety and Health is low, it will cause poor work procedures and unsafe work
environments that will result in reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, reduced employment longevity and reduced quality of health resulting from occupational injuries and disease.
With such poor indicators of Occupational Safety and Health, Uganda's vision of achieving middle-income status by 2030 will inevitably be impeded. It is therefore important for us all to endeavour to learn more about and adhere to proper workplace practices in our respective occupations to help us achieve a solid Occupational Safety and Health culture that will pave way for not just ourselves but the next generations to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Remember, a workplace is meant to be a source of livelihood and not of ill-health.
For further information and guidance on Occupational Safety and Health matters, please visit the Department of Occupational Safety and Health in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Plot 2, Simbamanyo House George Street, Kampala or e-mail email@example.com
The writer is an occupational physician, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development