Minister of Labour, Senator Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo addressing??the seminar on Occupational Health and Wellness at the Accra Beach Hotel. (A. Miller/BGIS)

Medicine in Barbados should focus more on encouraging awareness about occupational health and wellness and its prevention.

So says Minister of Labour, Senator Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo. Her comments came as she addressed a seminar on Occupational Health and Wellness that was organised by the Coverley Medical Centre today and held at Accra Beach Resort. The event was conceptualised to provide the business community with a sound working knowledge of the Safety and Health at Work Act.

Stressing that this island’s human capital was its most valuable national resource, Dr. Byer Suckoo said that as a nation Barbados had invested heavily in its human resources through an educational and training system which allowed individuals to benefit up to the tertiary level and to achieve high-level qualifications in a range of subjects. However, she stressed that these efforts would be to no avail, "if our most talented workers become seriously ill or injured because of poor working environments".

Noting that the seminar also reflected this year’s World Day for Safety and Health theme, The Prevention of Occupational Diseases, the Labour Minister reminded employers that they had the responsibility to reduce any risk factors in the workplace that could give rise to "ill effects". She noted that the Safety and Health at Work Act mandated employers to "conduct suitable and sufficient risk assessments which must include a determination of the steps that must be taken to eliminate or reduce risk to

health and safety." She added that issues such as ensuring adequate ventilation, temperature, lighting and protection from noise and vibration were part of this ambit.

Senator Byer Suckoo added that providing a safe work environment should not be considered optional, and noted that some persons had questioned her decision to introduce the Employment Rights Act, the Safety and Health at Work Act and Sexual Harassment Bill. ??"Admittedly, it will require some degree of forethought and planning, but evidence from the ILO [International Labour Organisation] and other international sources suggests that such an effort would pay significant dividends in the long-run…," she said. The Labour Minister mentioned the fact that accidents, and ill health reduced productivity, decreased morale, increased insurance premiums and had negative effects on the public image of the company.

"In the case of a very severe accident, such as a fire or loss of key personnel in a small firm, such an event can spell the end of the business altogether. Conversely, a solid investment in safety and health will significantly reduce the risks to an organisation," she reasoned.

The Labour Minister stressed that health and safety needed to be paramount in all workplaces, from construction sites to offices, and said that more attention should be paid to workplace ergonomics so as to prevent the development of repetitive strain injuries.

"Additionally, harmful stress within the workplace, including physical, environmental and emotional, even related to relationships at work and concerns about job security, have also been linked to the occurrence of musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, digestive and many other disorders. As a primary care physician myself this in part explains why I have pursued the suite of labour legislation I mentioned so passionately," she disclosed. Senator Byer Suckoo suggested that the establishment of a Safety and Health Committee, which was mandated by the Act, would be "a key vehicle through which employers and employees can make far reaching decisions that would improve the quality of life at the organisation."

The seminar’s agenda also included presentations on the Accidents and Occupational Diseases Notification Act, Indoor Air Quality, The Employers Perspective on the SHaW Act and Building Your Own Safety and Health Policies.


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