Feature: Ensuring Safety and Health in the Workplace

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Daily, accidents occur in the workplace.?? These range from minor injuries to the maiming of an employee or even death.?? Ironically, in many instances, these mishaps could have been avoided if proper precautions were adhered to by either the employer or employee.

According to the Barbados Economic and Social Reports 2006 to 2010, the number of accidents on the job fluctuated during the reported period, with the figure for last year amounting to 1,408, more than twice that of 2009, which stood at 672.?? Statistics also indicated that fatalities were recorded each year, with four noted in both 2006 and 2010.

With a mandate to ensure that Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) measures are adhered to by both employers and employees, the Labour Department, in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, has engaged in a number of initiatives to reduce the incidence of mishaps in the workplace through information sharing and practical activities.

That unit is in the process of developing a National Safety Management System, which, according to Safety and Health Officer, Alison Elcock, is going to be like a national standard used to guide employers on how to implement and manage safety in the workplace.

"One major project that we have on stream is a National Safety Management System that we are currently in the early stages of developing. In the…Safety and Health Week [held earlier this year] we started the process by having a National Consultation.?? We are using the model of the Mexican Government National Safety

Management System and we actually had a representative from the Mexican Government present during safety and health week," she explained.

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With regard to methods currently being used to ensure that companies adhered to the current regulations, Ms. Elcock noted that these included routine unannounced inspections at workplaces that were covered by the Factories Act.

"…We would go into those workplaces and basically assess the levels of compliance with the provisions of the Factories Act.?? Outside of those routine inspections, we would also provide advisory services and investigate complaints…Then, there is training where we simply would arrange with the company to discuss a particular topic that they want or we would look at what is being done in the organsation and advise the company of what would be best suited for it," the Safety and Health Officer clarified.

Along with routine inspections, the Division investigates some accidents which occur in the workplace.?? Explaining that a statutory form needed to be submitted to the Chief Labour Officer whenever a person was injured during the course of his/her employment and was away from work for three days. ??Ms. Elcock said that these forms were analysed and a decision made on which cases would be investigated to determine what led to the accident and how it could be prevented in the future.?? Domestic workers, military and other armed forces are exempt from such investigations.

While most inspections are done with the cooperation of business owners, the safety expert noted that the Labour Department had the power of entry once the organisation to be visited was covered under the Factories Act.??

"If the workplace is covered under the Factories Act…the employer would not have legal grounds to refuse us entry, and we would always have the option of asking members of the Royal Barbados Police Force to join us in the inspection," she pointed out, adding, however "…if it is not convenient for the employer, depending on the purpose of the visit, we may accommodate the employer and reschedule".

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It is incumbent on both employers and employees to uphold safety standards in the workplace.?? The employer has a duty to ensure, among other things, that there is a safe work environment and safe equipment, as well as provide adequate information, instruction and training.?? Employees, on the other hand, have a responsibility to be circumspect in performing tasks, use the protective equipment provided, observe policies and procedures put in place to protect them, and report any unsafe conditions they observe.

Employees may also raise safety concerns related to their places of work with the Labour Department, although Ms. Elcock pointed out that this should be done with some consideration to their place of work.

"If there is a concern in the workplace on any safety and health matter, we will encourage employees to first ensure that their supervisor or employer is aware of the concern and that they have some opportunity to address that concern.?? Where there may be some delay or the employee is not satisfied that the employer is treating it with the level of urgency that they think is warranted, then they can make contact with the Labour Department.

We treat all information confidentially, so we never disclose the source of information [but] once we receive a complaint we would go into the workplace and carry out an investigation," she stated.

Other sensitisation activities by the Labour Department during this year included a Hospitality Blitz, which involved the inspection of hotels and restaurants on both the south and west coasts, and a partnership with the Barbados Water Authority, which saw that organisation issuing an OSH message on consumer bills circulated in May.

For more information on OSH, persons may visit the Ministry’s website at http://labour.gov.bb or visit the Labour Department located on the 2nd Floor East of the Warrens Office Complex, Warrens, St. Michael.

kim.ramsay-moore@barbados.gov.bb??

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