Message from the Hon. Keith Scott on the occasion of Occupational Safety and Health Month and World Day for Occupational Safety and Health at work 2020

On Friday June 21, 2019 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted Convention #190 the subject and focuses of which, is the elimination of Violence and Harassment from the world of work.  Pursuant to that objective, the organization crafted and disseminated to member states a theme for World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2020 as follows: –

“Break the silence: Let’s end Violence and harassment in the World of Work”.

Our Nation i.e. the Co-operative Republic of Guyana embraced that theme and against the underpinnings of our Decent Work Country Programme, our commitment to achieving the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and our thrust for Human Development, redesigned our own theme in satisfaction of our philosophy to observe Occupational Safety and Health Month and World Day for Occupational Safety and Health at Work 2020 during the month of April.

That theme was “Violence and Harassment in the World of Work:  Employers and Workers – Be Aware and Take Action”.

We in the Ministry of Social Protection were not oblivious to the misfortunes and tribulations associated with the Coronavirus which is scientifically known as COVID-19 but since it had not yet impacted our nation in a direct way, the beginning of this year our plans for OSH month observances were developed with the elimination of Violence and Harassment at work in mind.

However, when the first case of the virus was detected here in early March 2020, the trajectory of our focus significantly changed giving rise to a new theme which is:

COVID-19: Employers and Workers:  Be Aware, Prepared and Take Action, Protect Yourselves and others”.

The need to work towards the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work has not been abandoned nor miniaturized but we are inclined to believe that all reasonable thinking Guyanese would endorse the new focus and hence the new theme.  There is little or no doubt that priority must be given to elimination of the spread this disease, while its suppression and eventual cure are being researched.

There has been much emphasis on controlling the spread but we in the Ministry of Social Protection submit that no effort should be speared to minimize and control the spread and ultimately the elimination of the disease.

Normally this Ministry would use various techniques and methodologies to educate and sensitize workers and employers of their rights, roles and responsibilities within the realms of Occupational Safety and Health during Occupational Safety and Health Month and especially the World Day for Occupational Safety and Health at work which is usually the 28th day of April, every year. Those awareness programmes included workshops, seminars, symposia, mounting of banners, health walks, Radio and Television Programmes and rallies throughout most of the ten (10) administrative regions.

However, this year (2020) we have made a conscious decision to avoid all activities which require the social gathering of stakeholders across the entire employment spectrum.

We are conscious of the fact that one means of containing the spread of the dreaded COVID -19 is by limiting social interaction amongst the population.  Hence the exclusion from this year’s observances all events which require people to assemble either indoor or outdoor.

The Ministry of Public Health has assumed a lead responsibility in confronting the Health Challenges which have emerged within and outside the world of work but be assured that every single Government Agency and even many from the Private Sector have enlisted themselves in the campaign to combat this scourge and fulfill the Nation’s health agenda, by contributing to the containment of the dreaded virus.

The Public Health Ministry in collaboration with the World Health Organisation has issued several guidelines designed to avoid or limit the spread of the virus.

One of those guidelines include the maintenance of social distances which is not easy to achieve in the world of work.  Never-the-less, this Ministry urges that in the interest of individuals, groups of workers and the Nation as a whole that all and sundry need to embrace this safety measure.   Recently, the Minister of Public Health the Hon. Ms. Volda Lawrence, lamented that citizens were not taking their responsibilities to limit the spread of the virus seriously.  She cautioned that if citizens continue to be reckless by not confirming to the issued guidelines, a total ‘lockdown” which will constrain people’s movements and congregation in public spaces may have to be enforced.

I want to appeal to everyone not to cluster or bunch up – especially in public places – because by so doing the risk of contracting and or spreading the disease increases.  Let us all be responsible citizens, take care of ourselves as well as of others.  Now is the time to make the principle of being each other’s keeper a truism.

The disease is classified as a Pandemic which according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center has in a few short months struck 737,929 persons with fatal consequence being in excess of 35,000. By International Standards it is classified as a pandemic and has done harm to the population of more than 100 countries to date. Nations have been with fear, stress, economic loss and worst of all death associated with the disease. As recent as Monday March 30, 2020 the death toll stood at 35,019 (Johns Hopkins) from the 737,929 confirmed cases.

This thing is an evil which has no face, it is not selective, it does not discriminate and does not strike on the basis of ideology, philosophy, creed, etc.

On the contrary, as long as anyone is exposed to its venomous tentacles, they can be infected with fatal consequences. It is no respecter of persons it has already struck the rich and the poor alike and by the time it is finally over, the world of work will be severely affected.

Regardless of how it is classified i.e. (epidemic or pandemic) it has the potential to be ranked amongst the world’s deadliest diseases which include;

    • The black death of 1347 to 1351 which resulted in approximately 138 million deaths.
    • The Spanish flu of 1918 to 1919 which resulted in approximately 50 million deaths
    • The Asian Flu of 1957 that resulted in approximately 1.1 million deaths
    • The Hong Kong Flu of 1968 that resulted in approximately 1 million deaths
    • The Swine Flu 2009 to 2010 which resulted in approximately five hundred thousand deaths
    • HIV/AIDS 1980’s and onwards resulted in approximately 32 million deaths

(https://abc7news.com/597417/)

These figures are quite discomforting and we can only appeal to citizens including workers and employers to take every precaution to stop the spread of the disease both within and without the world of work.

I have taken the liberty to replicate below the eleven preventative measures for the workplace recommended by the ILO

  1. Undertake risk assessments and implement controls
  2. Explore alternative work methods
  3. Share information and establish communication plans
  4. Wash hands frequently and adopt good hygiene practices
  5. Avoid sharing objects that could transmit the virus
  6. Use personal protective equipment (PPE)
  7. Beware of wide-spreading droplets (breath in and cough out)
  8. Keep workplaces and objects clean and disinfected
  9. Protect clients and end users
  10. Workers should stay at home if sick
  11. Seek advice from the Department of Labour and health authorities

In so far as seeking advice from the Labour Department is concerned we have already issued an “Advisory” which can assist employers in managing their businesses and their Human Resources during these challenging times.

In view of the foregoing workers are advised to adhere to the advice and instructions of the Public Health Ministry and all others who are demonstrating their patriotism with this administration which has not varied from its responsibilities to provide a Good Life for all Guyanese.

Within the parameters of our theme which is: Employers and Workers: Be Aware, Prepared and Take Action, Protect Yourselves and Others, we wish to emphasize that every Stakeholder is required to play his or her part. Those employers, companies and trade unions which are already on board must be commended, and encouraged to continue to battle this disease.

We can be aware by keeping in tune through the print and electronic media for the latest information and advice about this virus. We did not include Social Media which can be useful yet misleading at times.  Please pay attention to the official channels of communication.

You can be prepared by adhering to every preventative and precautionary measure designed to defeat the virus.

We can take action to protect ourselves and others by maintaining our social distances, maintain a strict menu of hygiene measures and desist from congregating unnecessarily.

Be patient in observing the rules so that you would not become a patient or worse, a statistic.

Speaking about the possibility of becoming a Patient let me take this opportunity to commend all our Health Sector Workers including Doctors, Nurses, First Responders, those providing janitorial services and those in the ancillary departments of hospitals. Thus far you have done well in containing the spread of the disease. For several days Guyana which is one of the most populated CARICOM member states was listed as one of the least affected with eight (8) confirmed cases.

The Health Sector workers are all providing invaluable services in the face of tremendous risks and hazards.  Let us give them all the support they need.

Now more than ever before, employers are required to ensure that every single employee in the health sector as well as in all other sectors is provided with the requisite Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and adhere to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) in the context of Safety and Health.

There must be no complacency in the delivery of health services in the Private and Public Sectors.

Public transportation workers and passengers in Mini Buses, Taxis and Speed Boats are also exposed to a high degree of risks, but they all need to follow the safety guidelines which are being constantly disseminated through the Media.

I would like to conclude by calling forth the words of world famous Martin Carter who said “all are involved, all are consumed” Let take action now and avoid being consumed by the dreaded COVID – 19.

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COVID-19 Alert!

Coronavirus disease spreads primarily through contact with an infected person when they cough or sneeze. It also spreads when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. We urge citizens to practice good hygiene and social or physical distancing also adhere to the guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health, Guyana.