Occupational Safety & Health Act Heads To Cabinet


The long awaited proposed draft of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of Jamaica is expected to head to Cabinet next month.
The process, which commenced in 1998, has been spearheaded by the Industrial Safety Department at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
Speaking to JIS News Robert Chung, Deputy Director of Occupational Safety and Health at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security said that the Act should be passed by the end of the year, in the event that it went before Cabinet in April.
Under the proposed Occupation Safety and Health Act, each workplace will be required to have an occupation safety and health policy that outlines the commitment of each organization under the law.
“We have already drafted one for public sector entities and that is now being circulated for consultation in the wider public service so that we can get some feedback. It is then going to be submitted to the Ministry of Finance to be implemented in all public service entities,” Mr. Chung explained.
There will be a new set of regulations under the Act. One such regulation, Mr. Chung said, is called the Shops and Offices Regulation that will speak to “a whole new set of requirements that are going to be necessary for employers to provide for employees”. If breached, there will be stiff penalties. “We are talking about fines ranging from $25,000 to $250,000,” he informed.
Essentially, the Occupational Safety and Health Act addresses the entire working environment not just in the industrial setting, but all work environments.As it now stands, only industrial type workers, like those in a factory, are covered under Jamaica’s labour laws, specifically the Factories Act. This Act speaks to accidents and other health problems in the work place and stipulates safety standards that must be met by companies in the industrial sector.
“It speaks about things like ventilation, lighting, passages, emergency exits, fire escapes and exits and fire extinguishers. It is very broad. We also look at elevators, lifting equipment, welding equipment and all that kind of thing,” Mr. Chung said.
The Deputy Director also noted that under the terms of the Factory Act and the proposed Occupation Safety and Health Act, once an employee was involved in an accident on the workplace site, the employer was obligated to report the incident to the Ministry of Labour within 48 hours. The Ministry will then determine the course of action to be taken.
“There is not a recourse in terms of compensation for injuries received, but what we [Ministry] do is investigate the accidents with a view to implementing recommendations so that, these accidents do not recur,” Mr. Chung pointed out.
Continuing, “Of course, workers have a remedy at the common law to sue for injuries that they receive while they are on the job. Our investigations will aid that process because usually, the courts subpoena our records as evidence in any action.”
The idea to now include all categories of workers in the proposed Act, Mr. Chung said, was due to the fact that other risks were being identified worldwide in the average workplace.
“Internationally, there has been a move for all workers to be covered under some form of safety and health protection. We have therefore moved to comply with the international requirements to cover all workers in all workplaces because ill health occurrences and accidents not only pertains to industries but, also to offices,” he pointed out.
An example of new health problems occurring in the workplace is the recent phenomena of carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs when tendons or ligaments in the wrist become enlarged, often from inflammation, after being aggravated. This syndrome affects anybody who uses a keyboard on an extensive basis.
“If you do not have coverage for everybody, persons with carpal tunnel syndrome and other health related illness caused while working on the job, will be excluded. There are a lot of instances of other types of illnesses that we need to look into that people need to be covered for,” the Deputy Director said.
Employers, he argued, were obligated to provide workers with a safe and healthy work environment under the common law. “There are things that the employer can do in many instances such as provide better type desks, chair and keyboards and even better lighting. All these and more play a part in preventing injuries,” Mr. Chung stated.
Overall, by adapting world standards as it relates to the provisions under the proposed draft Act, employers can provide the working environment where, the international market can find a suitable and attractive workforce to invest.
Currently, of the 1.4 million people who comprise the workforce in Jamaica, only 11 per cent is covered under some health and safety protection.

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