The world is commemorating annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work. On this day, the spotlight is on protecting the life and health of workers everywhere.
This day is celebrated to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally. It is an awareness-raising campaign intended to focus international attention on emerging trends in the field of occupational safety and health and on the magnitude of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities worldwide.
According to the ILO, an estimated 2.3 million people die each year through work-related accidents and diseases, and 270 million suffer non-fatal workplace accidents. Each year 160 million new cases of occupational illnesses are reported. The financial burden of compensation, health care, rehabilitation and invalidity is huge. It is estimated that roughly four per cent of the annual global Gross Domestic Product, or US$1.25 trillion, is siphoned off by direct and indirect costs of occupational accidents and diseases such as lost working time, workers’ compensation, the interruption of production and medical expenses. What is even worrying is the fact that for a developing country like Ghana with a less developed prevention cultures, weak OHS legislation, weak workplace safety protection systems, coupled with large number of people in the informal sector, the cost can be as high as 10 per cent of GDP.
Considering the drag that workplace illnesses and injuries exert on a nation’s economy, one would have expected that Occupational safety and health would have been one of our national economic development priorities. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Workplace deaths and injuries are still largely undocumented in Ghana and there is insufficient political will to address the problem. As a country we still do not have a comprehensive national policy and appropriate legal provisions on Occupational Health and Safety. The necessary infrastructures required for effective implementation of programms are not available. There is little evidence of both government and private sector investment to reduce risk to the Ghanaian workforce. For example, we continue to rely on outmoded statutes like the Factories, Offices and Shops Act 1970, Act 328 even though this law is plagued with several shortcomings and not in line with modern trends.
To make matters worse, there are no systems for enforcement and these laws are only sporadically enforced therefore not serving as compelling incentive for employers to control risk for injury and illness on the job. Because of these and other reasons, many organistions are failing in their moral obligation and duty of reasonable care owed to their employees and others who are affected their work activities. It must be emphasised however that some organisations particularly the large multinational companies appear to be doing exceptionally well by developing prevention culture through reliance on internally developed standards and self regulation.
The theme of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work for 2015 is ‘’Join in building a culture of prevention on OSH’’. A national occupational safety and health culture is one 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.
Even though during the last decade there has been a general trend of increasing reliance on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems (OSHMS) by organisations all over the world, there has not been a serious increase in number of organisations in Ghana using the approach of OSHMS as a tool for the promotion of continual improvement of OSH performance with the exception of few big multinationals companies. Despite the tremendous improvement seen in the mining sector with the introduction of the minerals and mining (health, safety and technical) regulation of 2012, (L.I. 2182), many industries in Ghana such as timber, lumber and forestry, health and social care services, tourism, agriculture, construction etc are still not properly regulated in this modern day and time.
Addressing occupational hazards and improving the culture of prevention depends on effective government regulation and enforcement, education, and implementation of best practices. As the world commemorate this day, Ghana Institute of Safety & Environmental Professionals (GhISEP) is calling on the government to ratify key ILO conventions on occupational health and safety like Convention 187 and also live up to its responsibility of providing the infrastructure – laws and services necessary to ensure that Ghanaian employers provide workplaces that are safe and healthy for their employees.
ILO Convention 187 (Promotional framework for occupational safety and health) apply the concept of OSHMS to national OSH systems with the main purpose of ensuring that a higher priority is given to OSH in national agenda and to foster political commitments in a tripartite context for the improvement of OSH. It is based on two fundamental concepts, namely the development and maintenance of a preventative safety and health culture and the application at the national level of a management systems approach to OSH.
As health and safety is a shared responsibility and everyone has a role to play in making workplaces as safe and healthy as possible, we continue to urge all workers, employers, government and other partners to actively participate in workplace forums in order to find joint solutions to the many problems facing us in health and safety as a nation. Let us all (government, industry, society, individuals and professional bodies) wake up to the call and join in building a culture of prevention on occupational safety and health for mother Ghana.
By Samuel Koffie
Gen Secretary, GhISEP
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