Protecting workers from occupational hazards
THE numbers of workers who by the demands of their work suffer one form of disability or the other or even death have been on the increase in the past few years.
Particularly heart rendering are cases of workers that suffer death as a result of caring for patients as witnessed by the Ebola care-givers who paid the supreme price in the course of doing their jobs.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) sets aside every April 28 of every year to remember these special people. On its part, the Nigerian government has also responded by beginning the implementation of the Employees Compensation Scheme, which the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) is executing.
Examples of the many suffering of workers in diverse dimension are rampant, which include incidences such as health workers infected while caring for patients with deadly diseases, trapped miners who may or may not resurface, factory building collapses, plane crashes, explosions of oil rigs and nuclear accidents.
The Director General of the ILO, Guy Ryder put the number of work place injuries at 313 million.
He added: “Over 313 million workers suffer non-fatal occupational injuries each year, equating to 860,000 people injured on the job daily. Every single day, 6,400 people die from an occupational accident or disease, amounting to 2.3 million deaths each year. Work-related accidents or diseases can definitely be placed in the high-burden category of all global health problems.”
While stressing the need to prioritize safety in the workplace, Ryder insisted that there is no economic recession or pressure to maximize profits can ever justify cutting corners in workplace safety.
“Actually, failure to do so comes at a high price. Four per cent of global gross domestic product, equivalent to an astounding US$2.8 trillion, is drained off annually by costs related to lost working time, interruptions in production, treatment of occupational injuries and diseases, rehabilitation and compensation,” he explained.
A long-standing ILO priority, occupational safety and health were recognized as a fundamental human right in the 2008 Seoul Declaration on Safety and Health at Work.
He then stated that the world must unite in turning the right to protect workers into a human right issue in every part of the world.
He said: “Good governance on occupational safety and health shows that prevention pays. Today (Tuesday), on the occasion of World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the ILO calls for urgent action to build a culture of prevention on occupational safety and health.”
Ryder stressed that a national culture of prevention on occupational safety and health involves respecting at all levels the right to a safe and healthy working environment; active participation of all stakeholders in securing a safe and healthy working environment through a system of defined rights, responsibilities, duties and according the highest priority to the principle of prevention.
He hinted that the world could indeed build and maintain a culture of prevention that is founded on the engagement of many partners that include governments, workers and employers and their organizations, specialists and experts.
The ILO chief maintained that constructive dialogue among these groups promotes consensus building and democratic involvement of those with a vital stake in the world of work.
“It is time to consolidate occupational safety and health achievements in prevention. Good practices should be shared, promoted and emulated where possible and partnerships forged to accelerate progress towards building a global culture of prevention,” he said.
The ILO helmsman stated that raising awareness and knowledge of occupational hazards and risks and how to prevent and control them is key for this process.
He added: “Good governance will strengthen country capacities and also facilitate mobilization of national and international resources. Spending these funds wisely requires the creation and implementation of effective national occupational safety and health strategies with the aim of extending them to all sectors including micro- and small enterprises, the informal economy and agriculture. Each and every one of us can contribute to the prevention of occupational deaths, injuries and diseases. I invite you to join the ILO’s new Safe Day Campaign, which we are launching to raise awareness, secure greater engagement people and support stakeholders. Together we can build a culture of prevention on occupational safety and health.”
In his speech at the 2015 edition of the Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) in Abuja, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Senator Joel Ikenya, reiterated the Federal Government’s commitment to promoting a national occupational safety and health culture in which the right to a safe and healthy working environment is respected at all levels, where governments, employers and workers actively participate in securing a safe and healthy working environment through a system of defined rights, responsibilities and duties, and where the highest priority is accorded to the principle of prevention. Preventive strategies should cover all workers.
The Minister further submitted that meaningful advances for the improvement of working conditions and the working environment could only be achieved through the commitment and cooperation of all the stakeholders.
“Therefore, my ministry is prepared to strengthen the existing relationship by encouraging collaborative opportunities with the relevant ministries and agencies of federal, state and local government as well as relevant international agencies and non-governmental organizations for the promotion of preventive culture in occupational safety and health.
In our bid for employment generation, we must ensure decent work as spelt out in the harmonized National Policy on Occupational safety and Health,” he said.
Speaking on the theme ‘Joining in building a culture of prevention on occupational safety and health’, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of labour and productivity, Dr. Clement Illoh, bemoaned the multidimensional effects of occupational injuries and accidents on the national economy.
He said “The importance to the society of preventing occupational accidents risks is obvious. where preventive measures have been taken, significant reductions in occupational accidents and diseases have been achieved, thus saving lives, avoiding human suffering and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of workers. Safe and healthy working conditions are increasingly understood as strategic assets for enterprises and for society as they go hand in hand with productivity and competitiveness.”
He stressed that to take Nigeria to the next level of Occupational Safety and Health performance, the thinking and norm in OSH has to extend beyond compliance and systems to engaging the ‘hearts and minds’ of all stakeholders to shape values and belief systems for everyone to want to do their best to prevent injuries and ills health at work.
The deputy director, ILO Office for Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia and Liaison Office for ECOWAS, Dennis Zulu, said the ILO has been working relentlessly with the tripartite partners in Nigeria to check the menace of occupational health hazards and instill the culture of prevention of occupational safety and health.
He expressed dissatisfaction about the inability of the Occupational Health and Safety bill 2005 that was submitted to the National Assembly for passage.
To initiate the process through which Nigeria will cultivate the culture of safety at work place, Zulu urged Nigeria
to initiate the process of ratifying and domesticating all relevant ILO conventions on occupational safety and health.
He added: “We also appeal for measures to enhance the implementation of relevant laws with the aim of checking the escalating incidences of occupational accidents. Some of the conventions that need to be ratified include: C155 (Occupational safety and health convention, 1981 (No.155) and C187, the Promotional Framework for Occupational safety and Health Convention 2006. Adequate regulation is urgently needed to enforce such safety culture in all organizations.”
The Director General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Segun Oshinowo, who was represented by Adenike Adebayo-Ajala, said while accidents cannot be totally prevented, stakeholders must strive to put preventive measures in place.
He added: “Therefore, accidents such as falls from working height, crush injuries in excavation work, slips and trips, being struck by falling objects, bad working positions, often in confined spaces, inhalation of dust, are issues that can be addressed by stakeholders before they cause lasting damages to the health of workers.”
The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, hinted that Congress will soon create a reporting site in the already existing NLC website where workers can report what is happening in their places of work on daily basis with regards to accidents and work related diseases.
He said the OSH bill failed was not passed into law on the ground of technicalities, saying, “there is a wind of change in Nigeria, the federal ministry of labour and all of us should strive to get a better law for Nigeria with 8th assembly.
We know that adequate basic legal frameworks and regulations specifying minimum requirements are an essential foundation for achieving safe and healthy workplaces.”
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