Article: Pivot workplace safety insights from a regional summit on occupational health policies

Life @ Work

Pivot workplace safety insights from a regional summit on occupational health policies

In the relentless pursuit of workplace safety, we unveil a paradigm shift – forging environments where well-being triumphs
Pivot workplace safety insights from a regional summit on occupational health policies

Establishing comprehensive workplace safety programs is crucial in promoting a safe and healthy working environment. The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights the significance of workplaces in enhancing overall employee well-being. The Regional Workshop on Occupational Health in Colombo, Sri Lanka, conducted from September 19-22, 2023, addressed challenges, lessons learned, and the urgent need for cohesive strategies to tackle occupational health risks.

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Understanding occupational health:

Occupational health extends beyond physical safety, encompassing actions that ensure the highest level of physical, mental, and social well-being for workers. Hazardous workplace elements, from heat and noise to psychological stress, contribute to occupational diseases with far-reaching implications for individual health. A joint estimation by the WHO and International Labour Organization (ILO) revealed that work-related diseases and injuries led to 1.88 million global deaths in 2016, emphasizing the gravity of the issue.

Regional disparities:

The WHO South-East Asia Region emerged as a hotspot for work-related burden, with 36.5 deaths per 100,000 of the working population. The informal sector, a significant portion of the workforce, faces heightened vulnerability due to limited access to occupational health support. Sri Lanka, ranking as the third-highest in occupational risk-related deaths in the region, further underscores the urgency for tailored interventions.

Workshop insights and challenges:

The Regional Workshop highlighted disparities in occupational health policies and implementation across countries. Larger, formalized workplaces tended to benefit more from existing policies, while the informal sector faced challenges due to limited resources and inadequate institutional frameworks. The participants emphasised the need for a concerted effort to reach the disadvantaged informal sectors, which constitute a substantial portion of the workforce.

Informal sector vulnerability:

Nearly two-thirds of workers in the agriculture sector and three-quarters in the non-agricultural sector operate in the informal sector. These workers face higher vulnerability, fewer workplace protections, and lower wages, contributing to economic instability. The workshop deliberations underscored the imperative to address the unique challenges faced by the informal sector in various regions.

Actions and recommendations:

The workshop participants, aware of the challenges, identified priority areas for action. These include strengthening medical surveillance for early detection of occupational diseases, hazard identification, and case management. Additionally, emphasis was laid on addressing the needs of the informal sector and improving access to public health services. The impact of prolonged working hours, identified as a key risk factor, was brought to the forefront, prompting discussions with labor ministries for potential interventions.

Insights from field visits:

Field visits organised by the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka, provided participants with practical insights. Visits to diverse workplace settings, including a garment industry and medium-scale industry, illuminated the intricate links between occupational health systems and primary healthcare. The experts highlighted the need for integrating the occupational needs of the informal sector into national priorities.

National initiatives and plans:

In response to the workshop's deliberations, the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka, outlined priority areas for future initiatives. A comprehensive National Occupational Health, Safety, and Well-being program tailored for health workers will be developed and implemented. Moreover, plans to extend occupational health services to informal occupational groups and conduct a situational analysis of small enterprises signify a proactive approach.

Global affirmation and collaboration:

Despite global efforts, occupational accidents and diseases continue to claim lives. The International Labour Conference's decision in June 2022 to include a safe and healthy working environment in the ILO's framework of fundamental principles and rights at work reinforces the global commitment to workplace safety. Collaboration between governments, workers, and employers is crucial in preventing workplace accidents and diseases.

Legal frameworks and compliance:

The article highlights the significance of legal frameworks, including the Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSH Standards), in promoting workplace safety. The Philippines' OSH Law, updated in 2018, exemplifies the commitment to dynamic, inclusive, and gender-sensitive policies and programs. The implementation of spot audits and the authority to stop work in non-compliant establishments further reinforces the importance of stringent enforcement.

Employer and worker responsibilities:

The duties and rights of both employers and workers play a pivotal role in fostering a safe working environment. From providing hazard-free workplaces to involving workers in the OSH management system, the shared responsibility aims at creating a culture of safety. The emphasis on workers' right to refuse unsafe work and report accidents ensures active participation in maintaining a secure workplace.

Duties and rights of employers and workers:

A comprehensive list of duties and rights for employers and workers is outlined, emphasising the provision of hazard-free workplaces, proper training, compliance with OSH standards, and involvement in the OSH management system. Specific responsibilities include installing safety signage, providing personal protective equipment (PPE), and ensuring workers' rights to refuse unsafe work or report accidents.

Workplace requirements:

Workplaces covered by the OSH Standards must implement a suitable OSH Program depending on their size and level of risk. This program, communicated to all persons in the workplace, underscores the commitment to safety. Additionally, establishments must submit a copy of their OSH program to the relevant DOLE office.

Also Read: 45% of HR leaders say their employees are fatigued: Gartner

A comprehensive workplace safety program demands collaborative efforts, informed policies, and proactive interventions. The insights gathered from the Regional Workshop on Occupational Health underscore the urgency to address regional and sector-specific challenges. As countries formulate and implement national initiatives, adherence to legal frameworks, active participation from employers and workers, and global collaboration remain paramount. Only through such concerted efforts can workplaces evolve into safer, healthier environments for the workforce, thereby mitigating the profound impact of occupational diseases and injuries on individuals and societies.

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