Liberia will join the rest of the world today to celebrate World Day for Safety and Health at work under the global theme "Workplace Stress: a Collective Challenge”. This day was first celebrated on April 28, 2003 and since that time, the day has been observed to raise awareness on occupational safety and health among trade unions, employers' organizations and government representatives alike. The ILO over the time has acknowledged shared responsibility of stakeholders and encourages them to promote a preventive safety and health culture.
As the world commemorates this important day, there is a need for government and employers to exert every effort to enhance a safe and healthy working environment for all.
The ILO, the world body responsible for Employment and labour matters has been at the forefront of encouraging member states to enforce and improve the safety and health standards, policies and regulations at the Workplace. The ILO continues to encourage member states to ensure the implementation of stringent measures in order to bring about improved safety and health regulations at the workplace as this challenge can only be addressed through collective effort of all the tripartite partners. The ILO Constitution sets forth the principle that workers should be protected from sickness, disease and injury arising from their employment. Yet for millions of workers, the reality is very different.
According to ILO estimates, every year 2.34 million people die due to occupational fatalities, 2.02 million of which result from work-related diseases, equivalent to 5,500 deaths every day. The result is untold suffering for workers and their families and serious economic losses for economies and societies. The ILO further states that occupational accidents and diseases result in a 4 per cent loss in global gross domestic product (GDP) annually or about 2.8 trillion US dollars in direct and indirect cost of injuries and diseases. Undoubtedly, these effects can be mitigated through the implementation of sound preventive measures, information sharing and training, adequate inspection and the commitment of governments, employers and workers to the upholding of high occupational safety and health standards.
In the delivery of its mandate, the ILO has worked with countries worldwide to ensure that workers are protected from hazards at the work place. The ILO as a Standards setting Organisation expect member countries to ratify such standards and domesticate them in local law. With respect to Occupational Health and Safety these standards include, the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187) are both yet to be ratified by Liberia. However, the ILO is keen to supporting Liberia to ratify these important conventions in the near future. It is however important to note that the Liberian Decent Work Act of 2015 provides for the protection of workers on matters of Occupational Health and Safety..
Owing to the increasing pressure that workers face in meeting the daily challenges associated with their jobs this year’s OSH day theme, “Workplace Stress: a collective challenge” has been described as apt by stakeholders in the Labour and health sector.. Numerous surveys and studies confirm that occupational pressures and fears are by far the leading source of stress for workers across the world and that these have steadily increased over the past few decades.
According to the ILO, work-related stress is determined by work organization, work design and labour relations and occurs when the demands of the job do not match or exceed the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. The workplace factors that can cause stress are called psychosocial hazards. These include work environment and work equipment; task design; workload, work pace; work schedule. High stress levels can contribute to developing health-related impairments and unhealthy coping behaviours such as Cardiovascular disease; Musculoskeletal disorders; Burnout; Depression and anxiety; Suicide; Alcohol and drug abuse; Increased cigarette smoking; Unhealthy diet; Insufficient physical activity and Sleep disorders
The impact of work related stress on productivity and economic costs are huge as workers commitment would not be guaranteed while it reduces efficiency and accuracy in performance. However, the ILO has severally emphasized that if OSH is effectively standardized in workplace and employers are committed to it, stress induced factors in workplace would be eradicated or at least, reduced to barest minimum.
In an interview, Ms Maron Wreh, Asst. Labour Minister for Labour Standards, explained that the Government of Liberia had ensured that employers complied with safety and health regulation at the work place and this was working as it was an integral part of the decent work law that was recently passed. She noted that few workers were found and held liable for negligence because they ignored the regulations regarding safety and health.
She continued “because we care for the workers, we have assigned labour inspectors who are experts in all field of specialization to conduct routine check at employers’ companies to authenticate whether they are in compliance with the safety and health.
She further explained “the other day we spoke about ILO conventions being ratified by this government, and I said that we (government) have ratified some of those conventions". Safety and Health related conventions in both the agriculture and construction sectors have not yet been ratified; we are hoping that with this passage of the Decent Work law by the Legislature, other conventions like C 155, C 161, and C 187 will be submitted by the president for ratification" Maron Wreh, Asst. Labour Minister for Labour Standards.
She continued "What I told you during our conversation last Thursday was to say that as a government we have put in place some standards that are not law and it is intended to guide companies so that they comply regarding safety and health issues at the place of work.
Senate Committee on Labour Senator Matthew Jaye said he is unsure whether the ILO Conventions C155 and. C184 on occupational safety were ever submitted. “I can’t tell you right now whether these conventions were submitted by the President or not; what I can assure you is that these conventions have not been ratified by this legislature up to the present time and best to my knowledge” the Senator stressed.
Accordingly; Senator Jaye said he will mandate the Secretary of the Senate to check the files concerning treaties submitted in order to authenticate whether ILO Conventions C155, C161 and C184 were before the legislature. He promised that his committee has been working assiduously to ensure that workers are protected in the country.
Senator Jaye said that his committee is also willing to work with international partners that believed in the protection of the workers worldwide. He added that with the passage of the Decent Work Act, there is a possibility for the ratification of treaties when they are submitted by the President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Over 65 International Labour Conventions are far from being ratified by the Liberian Government. In the last 12 months, no convention concerning Labour has been ratified. Only six out of eight ILO Core conventions and 10 Governance and technical conventions have been ratified by Liberia.
Most of the accidents reported over the last few months have occurred within the Agricultural sector and have resulted to fatal injuries. The ratification of Convention No. 184 in the words of Senator Jaye would have helped to prevent some of the incidents that are happening in the sector. He said the committee would shortly engage with stakeholders so that workers issues could be addressed.
Ahead of Safety and Health Day celebration, workers governing body in the country; the Liberia Labour Congress has made a passionate appeal to employers to improve on regulations regarding safety and health at the workplace. Deputy Secretary General Obadiah Tarlue said that safety and health issues have been a serious challenge at the workplace.
Tarlue said it was important for employers to give safety and health issues a priority at the workplace in order to prevent huge disaster like death and injuries at the workplace. He explained that several companies across the country have reneged when it comes to prioritizing safety and health at the workplace. He disclosed that employer’s failure to improve and adhere to safety and health regulations have resulted to deaths as a result of explosion at plantations across the country.
Tarlue said “if employers will create or improve on regulations of safety and health and ensure conducive working environment for employees, then issues such as injuries or disasters at the workplace will be reduced to the lowest"
Tarlue has acknowledged the challenges and urged national government to ensure that employers comply with safety and health regulations in the country.
Workers, he pointed out have also complained about safety and health issues at the workplace; but such a situation still persists. Poor safety and health, he added, poses a serious threat to their well-being because the environment is not conducive for workers.
Safety and Health Manager of Liberia Coca Cola Bottling Company LCCBC, Kojo Alex says his company has over the year’s ensured safety and health for employees. Alex stated “we at the LCCBC are in full compliance with safety and health regulations; we hired international experts who together with inspectors carry on routine inspection at the facility of the company.
He continued “because we love our employees, we have ensured that they are safe and healthy on the job. This is a facility that deals with chemicals and preventing disaster shows that we are adhering to all safety and health regulations that are in place.
In Liberia, the challenges still exist with regards to capacity gap. It is said that the government depends on employers’ to prevent disasters instead of having experts who are knowledgeable in the area. In as much as we anticipate and hope for enabling working environment, it is important to note that Safety and Health is a collective challenge that requires the participation of all. Doing so would ensure that OSH measures are adhered to.
As the world celebrates this important day, the ILO is encouraging member states to ratify International Labour Standards that seek the wellbeing and protection of the workforce.
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