Message of the Hon. Mr. Keith Scott Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection on the occasion of observing Occupational Safety and Health month and World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
It seems like it was just yesterday that the APNU+AFC Government of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana embraced the rest of the world as it observed Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) month and the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Today we commence similar observances for the year 2018.
Generally, the month of April is designated OSH month the 28th day of which, is set aside as the World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
Each year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) which is the main advocate of the observances selects a theme which we embrace to signify the Cut and Thrust of Safety Initiatives within the realm of work. This year, that theme is: Generation Safe and Healthy: Improving the Safety and Health of Young Workers, which emphasizes the need for nations to Promote a Culture of Safety impacting young workers and it is hoped to be to be inherited by future generations.
As a matter of fact, this year, we are adopting a double-barreled approach to the promotion of OSH. This approach seeks to promote health and safety on the one hand and directly confronts Child Labour on the other hand.
The activities this year are being impacted by several philosophical underpinnings which include.
- Human Development as defined in the most recent United Nations (UN) Human Development Report (2016).
- Decent Work as defined and expounded upon by our current Decent Work Country Programme (2017-2021).
- Our commitment to the United Nation 17 Sustainable Development Goals, (SDG’s)
- Our current National Budget the theme of which is The Journey to the Good Life Continues and
- The key Findings of Unicef’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey released in the year 2016.
All of these parameters cover a wide range of cross-cutting issues which converge to promote Occupational Safety and Health but the importance of achieving Sustainable Development Goal # eight requires premium attention and cannot be emphasised enough. The essence of that Goal requires the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
Critical to the achievement of this global goal is the protection of workers’ rights which must be positioned within a framework of safe and secured working environments, especially for young workers.
The APNU+AFC Government is committed to protect the wealth of this nation the most important component of which is our human resources, commonly referred to as workers.
To make this commitment a reality the Ministry of Social Protection superintends the administration of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Chapter 99:10 which bestows on employers and employees alike certain fundamental rights and obligations. Even though this legislation was enacted since 1997 the supporting Regulations to really give it efficacy were not brought into being.
However, with the assumption of office by the APNU+AFC Government steps have been taken to bring into effect the necessary enabling Regulations. For example, the prerequisite consultation process for the draft Regulations on the Safe use of Chemicals and Forest Operations have been completed, and work on Construction and Mining are progressing.
These Regulations, particularly those pertaining to the safe use of Chemicals are critical to the positioning of our Republic as a 21st century emerging industrialized society, especially as we evolve into the newest Oil and Gas Industry within this hemisphere.
I am particularly delighted to repeat that the most recent United Nation Human Development Report (2016) categorized Guyana as a Medium Human Development Country but if we are to be elevated to the coveted status of High Human Development we will Have to achieve the aforementioned Sustainable Development Goal #8 a Performance Indicator of which is a reduction in the frequency of Fatal and Loss Time accidents in the workplace. Apart from those draft Regulations other initiatives designed to enhance the delivery of the Safety Function at every level include the finalization of a Draft National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health and the launching of a campaign to promote Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) in the Informal Sector/Economy. It is in the informal economy that Young Workers are mostly exposed to the failure of employers to provide adequate Occupational Safety and Health (OSH).
It is no secret that Occupational Safety and Health in the Informal Economy is seriously lacking but we have commenced addressing that deficiency so that social protection can be accorded to thousands of workers outside the proverbial Safety Net.
In my Government’s 2018 Budget Presentation to the 11th Parliament the Honourable Minister4 of Finance pointed out that a reduction in fatal accidents in the mining sector had been realized, but between the budget presentation and the end of 2017, a further reduction was experienced.
As a matter of fact, at the close of the year (2017) the total number of accidents reported declined by 5.3% from 462 to 428 and those which were of a fatal consequence declined by 14% from 21 to 18.
These reductions were attributed to an increase in enforcement in conjunction with the education and sensitization initiatives undertaken by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) department during the year.
I wish to let it be known that the investigations of all fatal accidents have been completed or are close to being completed, in keeping with our mandate. Further, no matter how long it takes there shall be no compromise in the investigation of these accidents
While these statistics are encouraging, the Ministry of Social Protection would appreciate if all stakeholders would zealously embrace the initiative of Zero Tolerance for Loss Time and Fatal Accidents. Towards that end, I wish to submit that there is no level of accidents with which we are comfortable. This is just another way of saying that there is no acceptable level of accidents.
The cost of preventing workplace accidents and compensation which arise from such events can be enormous and even though last year the World Day for Safety and Health at Work was addressed under the theme: Optimize The Collection and Use of OSH Data we are not satisfied that the data on compensation associated with workplace accidents is anywhere close to being accurate.
In the more developed Countries like the USA, the data is relatively reliable but we cannot say the same of the data from our local milieu primarily because of under-reporting in conjunction with untimely reporting. As a consequence of such a short-coming we are intensifying our Statistical Unit to the point where Guyana can be placed on the Tier Two level within the context of Labour Market Information System (LMIS) which, inter alia, captures and reflects Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) data.
The prevention and possible elimination of workplace accidents are central to the functions of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) department of the Ministry and to the overall Human Resources Management philosophy of the APNU+AFC Government, hence its inclusion in the nation’s Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) (2017-2021).
From an academic perspective attention is directed to Section 2.3 of that programme (DWCP) under the rubric Working Conditions; which reads as follows:
“With Respect to Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), the current approach is focused on a compensation and rehabilitation logic paired with punitive measures to address non-compliance as opposed to emphasizing a culture of prevention”
The essence of this submissions is rooted in the theme of the 2015 observances which was Join in building a culture for prevention on Occupational Safety and Health.
Notwithstanding the less than admirable development of our Labour Market Information System which can be considered as a work in progress, the data suggests that the Culture of Prevention has thus far evaded us. Never-the-less, we must seek to embrace this initiative.
The Ministry invites all stakeholders from both the formal and informal sectors to embrace the thrust of developing a Culture of OSH Safety so that a Generation of a Safe and Healthy Workforce in dynamic workplaces can be entrenched in our nation.
On the question of confronting Child Labour in the grand scheme of things we are pleased to advise that this scourge will not be neglected in any way. A most comprehensive and elaborate blueprint designed to dispel Child Labour from the landscape of Guyana while at the same time protecting Young Workers will be outlined during Anti-Child Labour Observances later in the year.
In the meantime, I want to commend to the nation the menu of activities which was developed by the Ministry in consultation with and collaboration of stakeholders such as the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) and the National Tripartite Committee members.
It is not possible to present and outline the details of that menu at this forum but I wish to advise that it will shortly appear in the Print Media and can be uplifted from our safety department which is situate at Lot 1 Cornhill and Water Streets, Georgetown. That menu includes Health Walks, Exhibitions and Media Programmes.
In closing, I wish to highlight a concept being propagated by the US Department of Labour Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Administration called Safety Stand-Down.
This concept does not mean a relaxation of alertness to safety needs. On the contrary, it is defined as follows:
“A Safety Stand- Down is a voluntary event for employers to talk directly to and with employees about safety, engaging each other in meaningful ways.
This seems to suggest that a break is taken from the busy work and production schedule to interact and discuss safety practices and obligations which can and do impact the quality of life and work of all stakeholders (Employers and Employees).
After all, if we are to complete the Journey of a Good Life all and sundry must consciously and effectively contribute to the promotion and maintenance of a high standard of Occupational Safety and Health, for all categories of employees especially the young ones.