The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) draft policy currently before cabinet to salvage Ghanaian workers from accidents, injuries and deaths is being gathering dust at Ghana’s Parliament, since 2013.
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The OSH commonly referred to as occupational health and safety (OHS) or workplace health and safety (WHS) is an area concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of people engaged in work or employment.
The goals of occupational safety and health programmes include fostering a safe and healthy work environment. OSH may also protect co-workers, family members, employers, customers, and many others who might be affected by the workplace environment.
According to personal injury attorneys in common-law jurisdictions, employers have a common law duty to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees. Statute law may build upon this to impose additional general duties, introduce specific duties and create government bodies with powers to regulate workplace safety issues: details of this will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Withe help of worker’s comp lawyers, injury workers may be able to recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, property damage, and more. Injury law firms proudly represent the rights of the injured and their families. Over the past 20 years, we have recovered millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for countless injured people in the greater New Orleans area. Whether we are negotiating with insurance adjusters or presenting your case in front of a jury, we work hard to deliver the best possible result for each and every client.
As defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) “occupational health deals with all aspects of health and safety in the workplace and has a strong focus on primary prevention of hazards.” Occupational health is a multidisciplinary field of healthcare concerned with enabling an individual to undertake their occupation, in the way that causes least harm to their health.
Ghana not doing enough
Ghana is a member of the International Labour Organsation (ILO), the specialised agency of the UN. Its aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues.
In fact, Ghana is a signatory to several ILO conventions and protocols that seek to get member countries to develop a holistic and integrated approach to the fundamental issue of occupational safety and health (OSH) and for the promotion and creation of a preventative safety and health culture.
But the country is yet to ratify the ILO Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) which provides for the adoption of a coherent national occupational safety and health policy, as well as action to be taken by governments and within enterprises to promote occupational safety and health to improve working conditions.
The ILO Convention 155 entered into force on 11 August 1983 and has been ratified by 60 countries to date. Ghana is yet to ratify it despite many years of pressure from workers, employers and civil society organisations.
Daniel Owusu Boatey, a senior official of the Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC), and Charles Asante-Bempong, Director, Research Projects, Ghana Employers Association (GEA) said it was taking long for the country to get the bill pass into law.
Mr. Boatey lamented: “The policy is still in a draft form. We started the bill process as far back in 2001, but it has still been in the pipeline”.
“What are we awaiting for”, he questioned.
The ILO Convention 155 which will give the policy the legal backing has also not been ratified by Ghana’s Parliament. Mr Boatey therefore urged the MPs to “ratify the ILO convention within the shortest possible time”.
Fragmented OSH laws
Mrs. Emma Ofori-Agyemang, the Director of Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations admitted that Ghana has some laws and policies which regulate OSH issues but they are fragmented and prescriptive.
She said: “There are some laws in place that regulate or point to the fact that we need to pay attention to occupational safety and health.
The constitution itself-Article 401 clearly spells out the right and safety of average worker at the workplace. We also have the Factories, Offices and Shops Act 1970 (328) that points to the regulation of OSH”.
“Indeed others are the Mining Regulations 1970 LI 665, the Workman Compensation Act of 1987 Act 187. The Radiation Protection Instrument, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Act of 1984 Act 490, all have concerned for OSH issues”.
Furthermore, the Labour Law itself of 2003 Act 625 is the very recent one that regulates or attempts to regulate occupational health safety in this country”, Ofori-Agyemang stated.
Collaborating to the fragmentation of OSH laws, Fred Ohene-Mensah, the Chief Factory Inspector at the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations noted that health and safety at workplaces started from the colonial days.
He said: “The British brought the Factories Ordinance right way back in 1950 that travelled to 1970 when it was reviewed and we have the Factories, Offices, and Shops Act”.
“So, governments over the years have an eye on health and safety right from the colonial days up to this time. But they have been fragmented. That is why they seem not to be working at the movement”, Mr Ohene-Mensah lamented.
For Mr Asante-Bempong, he sees the current laws for OSH to be limited in scopes and very prescriptive, stressing: “The existing laws do not cover the informal sector”.
While Mr Boatey also added that the “existing laws are fragmented to the extent that they are too cumbersome to implement. For instance, EPA can carry out inspection at one factory today. Tomorrow, Factory Inspection division will also conduct similar inspection at the same factory. This duplication of inspections alone frustrates employers and employees”.
OSH is a human rights issue
When asked how much does the worker know about his or her right at the workplace, he argued cogently that “OSH is a human rights issue, it is the right of the worker and it is enshrined in the 1984 UN Declaration.”
Mr Boatey emphasised that everybody has the right to work in a humane working environment. Then, it tickles down to our 1992 Constitution”.
He however regretted that studies conducted by the TUC have shown that “workers, employers, and government do not take issues of OSH serious”.
“Workers are interested first and foremost in looking for wages and salaries. This is where their interest is. Then, they look at what we called service condition”, according to Mr Boatey.
“Now, what will make you enjoy the service condition that you have attained? What will make you have a secure job is when the workplace is hazardous free, risk free, and injury free as well”.
Weak enforcement Labour law affects OSH
Mr Asante-Bempong, Director, Research Projects of GEA noted that the current Labour Law recognises the enforcement of occupational safety and health but it is weakly enforced.
“I think Section 118 of the law really talks about occupational safety and health, the responsibility of the employer, responsibility of workers, and so on. So, the law, I will say takes occupational safety and health very seriously. I think the education on OSH is lagging”, he stated.
“We need to take it very seriously. We need to educate employers and workers to know about it and to apply the various tenets of the law, we need to help those workers who have been neglected to talk to the construction accident attorneys to get advise. And I think that will contribute to health and safety at the various workplaces in the country”, Mr Asante-Bempong urged.
Effects of injuries on productivity
Touching on economic and social effects of injuries, Mr Boatey, a senior of TUC indicated: “When people get injuries they affect the work and productivity. When people involved in accident it creates a bad image for the enterprise”.
“People will not get their job security and productivity will also suffer. As a result an accident a whole company cannot operate. So, you see OSH makes productivity cost very low. Also, the nation benefits economically”.
He revealed that 4% of the world’s growth domestic product (GDP) is spent annually on occupational safety and health issues.
While according to ILO statistics, an estimated 2.23 million people die each year from work-related accidents and diseases. Of these, the vast majority – an estimated 2.02 million- die from a wide range of work-related disease.
Occupational diseases cause huge suffering and loss in the world or work. Yet, occupational or work-related disease remains largely invisible in comparison to industrial accidents even though they kill six times as many people each year- this translates into 5,500 deaths a day from causes related to work, according to the experts.
On the effects on government, Mrs Ofori-Agyemang who is the Director of Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations added in 2015 alone the Ghanaian government paid as much as GHC3 million as compensation to about 262 injured people at the work place.
Again in 2012, the government paid a little above GHC1.5 million as compensation to some injured people, while employers had to pay over GHC200,000 to their injured workers in that year, she added.
“So, it has a huge financial cost to the government. All these monies could have used for something. It also a human resource factor, if you have a worker and he gets injured, dies or incapacitated, you lose a worker forever”, Mrs Ofori-Agyemang stated.
“The injured themselves bring untold hardship to their families and friends as well. So, it is really burden on the government and the society as a whole”.
GEA, and TUC influence on OSH implementation
Mr Asante-Bempong explained: “GEA has been very influential when it comes to the implementation of the fragmented laws on the OSH. Our members are abreast with issues concerning OSH.”
“We started certificate and diploma courses in occupational safety and health in collaboration with Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA)”, he disclosed.
In 2007, we also saw the need to really do a survey among our members to find out their occupational safety and health needs. We realized that they were facing a lot of challenges when it comes to enforcement. The enforcement was below what the Factory Inspection division requires, Mr Asante-Bempong emphasised.
To this end, according to him: “We came out with a voluntary document for five sectors including manufacturing, building and construction, and hotel and tourism to help them address their OSH issues by themselves”.
For Mr Boatey, what the TUC is currently doing first and foremost is to negotiate on OSH issues and then include them in their bargaining agreement.
He added that “the TUC has also developed national OSH for its 18 affiliate national unions to look at that policy and develop their policies pertaining to their various sectors that they work”.
African Eye Report