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ILO helps Guyana develop new Occupational Safety and Health Policy

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is assisting Guyana in crafting a new policy on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) aimed at preventing workplace injuries and fatalities, the Ministry of Social Protection announced Wednesday.

The draft was presented to stakeholders including the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUG), the Consultative Association of Guyanese Industries (CAGI) and the National Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH).

The current OSH Policy was first introduced in 1993 and subsequently revised in 1996. It sets guidelines for compliance to ensure safety is prioritized in the working environment. That policy had outlined specific roles for the then Ministries of Labour and Health, the National Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health and social partners such as the trades Union and CAGI, which represents the private sector. The new policy seeks to build on the existing one taking into account modern workplace practices.

Junior Minister of Social Protection, Mr. Keith Scott, “It is necessary now more than ever to ensure that the health and safety of workers and I dare add, management also, be elevated to “Boardroom Status”. I have decided to invoke the concept of the boardroom status, simply because much too often, safety is treated as an appendage to management systems and is therefore relegated to the periphery of the strategic Plans, Programmes and Budgets, of many organizations.  It is against that backdrop that a safety policy and by extension safety itself, becomes a casualty rather than a valued instrument. This I believe must be eliminated from our thought processes and practices,” he was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the ministry.

Scott said that the OSH Policy is supported by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, No. 32 of 1997 “which I am told is one of the most comprehensive occupational safety legislation…The current OSH legislation embraces the Factories Act, Chapter 95:02 which was rather parochial in its scope and mission did not provide for implementation, maintenance and continual update of a Health and Safety Policy in a manner that the OSH Act provides for today. An examination of the primary focus and agenda of the Factories Act and the OSH Act provide a distinct understanding that a Safety Policy is not only absolutely necessary but iit  must be current and reflective of evolving technology which does not in any way transgress the right and safety of workers,” he said.

The ILO has a team of experts in Guyana led by its Regional Director, Ms. Claudia Coenjaerts, to help modernise the 1996 OSH plan and develop its national profile on OSH. Speaking at the beginning of the stakeholders’ consultation earlier today, she noted that OSH is of critical importance because about two million workers lose their lives annually, and 160,000,000 fall ill due to workplace hazard. In addition, there are 250 million workplace accidents every year around the world. Describing this as a human and social tragedy, the Ms. Coenjaerts noted that there are dire economic consequences as well as these injuries, illnesses and deaths result in a loss of four percent of the World’s Gross Domestic Product. Hence, policies such as the one being crafted in Guyana are much need to articulate a preventative approach to health and safety at work and should emphasis compliance, training for workers and employers and information networks, all supported by strong legislation. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Protection, Mrs. Lorene Baird thanked the ILO for its consistent contribution to Guyana’s development, and expressed hope that at the end of the consultation, Guyana would have a new OSH policy that reflects its needs.

Advocating greater OSH in the workplace, General Secretary of FITUG, Mr. Kenneth Joseph took to the popular maxim “accidents don’t just happen, they are caused” to stress the impact workplace accidents can have on the country’s productivity and workers’ well being.

“It therefore, behooves all management structures to put Occupational Safety at the top, the core and the bottom of their policy from conception to daily  operationalizing of their enterprises whether Field, Factory, Office or otherwise,” he said. Mr. Joseph noted that in spite of the provisions of the OSH Act and Guyana signing the ILO Convention No.155, there are still some errant employers whose level of compliance leaves much to be desired.

“Both employees and employers are aware of the injury, death, disruption of production on the job, due to drowning, chemical inhalation, falls from great heights, misuse of equipment, slippery floors and other surfaces and disease infection from worker to worker. The foregoing is just indicative but the list points to the range of workplace negatives possible. Obviously, therefore, there is need to pursue the prevention and remedies which are available and insist on their enforceability by management, workers and health and safety operatives…Those who choose to breach the law and deliberately put workers lives and /or limbs at risk must face consequences.”

One way of ensuring grater OSH compliance according to Advisor to CAGI, Mr. Samuel Goolsarran, is frequent inspections by Labour and Occupational Safety and Health Officers. “The Labour Ministry must be commended for this initiative to conduct labour inspections in a revitalized way…it is generally accepted that the best way of ensuring compliance is to prevent any violations of labour regulations through a prevention oriented inspection system guided by international labour standards.” On the other hand, employers are obligated to do all that is reasonably practical to prevent personal injury and damage to property and to protect everyone from foreseeable work hazards and risks, while employees should exercise reasonable skill and care in their duties, he added.

Meanwhile, Vice President of GTUC, Mr. Norris Whitter noted that the OSH Policy is framed in the Decent Work Country Programme for Guyana, which was coined with supported from the ILO. A new Decent Work Country Programme is also being crafted simultaneously. However, Whitter noted that to date many of the initiatives therefore have not been implemented.