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Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Pearnel Charles, says Jamaica is on the verge of implementing a new safety and health legislation – the Occupational Safety and Health Act – to protect the welfare of Jamaican employees in the workplace.
He said occupational safety and health was a vital link in the Ministry’s development strategy and one that all organisations must embrace.
The Minister was speaking at the University of Technology’s (UTech) First Occupational Health and Safety Seminar and Expo, held at the Knutsford Court Hotel, in New Kingston, on July 1.
“For some time now, the Ministry has been pursuing the implementation of a new Occupational Safety and Health Act. As the Minister charged with responsibility for Labour, which includes safety and health concerns in the workplace, I am aware of the need to have this legislation implemented,” he remarked.
Mr. Charles said he has been informed by the Occupational Safety and Health Department and the Legal Department at the Ministry, that the Chief Parliamentary Counsel has made some progress in the drafting of the new Act.
The Minister said the seminar presented the unique opportunity for stakeholders to “prepare (themselves) for a new paradigm in the workplace, where the safety, health and welfare of workers are of paramount importance.”
“This vision will not be easily achieved and I must confess that, for employers and workers alike, there will be much to think about and understand, and many adjustments to be made in moving forward,” he argued.
He said the Government was willing to create the environment where workers and employers could arrive at a general consensus to achieve First World conditions in the working environment.
Mr. Charles further said that as the new Act is being drafted, special attention is being placed on equality, as the laws and regulations governing occupational safety and health must be fair and balanced, in order to give all players in the workplace a sense of justice and fair play.
He explained that the new standards would require some effort and commitment, but advised that the Occupational Safety and Health Department at the Ministry would provide adequate guidance to both employers and employees in meeting the desired objectives.
The Minister said one such programme has already been formulated to assist employers in adjusting to the proposed regime. The programme, which is entitled the Voluntary Compliance Programme (VCP), will see organisations participating in training in internationally accepted standards for certain workplace issues.
Mr. Charles said the proposed law should provide a complete response to workplace issues, including HIV/AIDS and Child Labour.
He said the Ministry continued to bemoan the many injuries and deaths that have occurred at workplaces in Jamaica, due to occupational accidents.
“Injury is not only about the traumatic occurrences that occur in accidents, such as people losing their arms and legs, but injuries that are debilitating, because of mediocre safety and health standards that we pay little attention to, injuries that cause absenteeism and escalating medical bills,” he argued.
Mr. Charles said it was time to drastically improve the level of occupational safety and health in workplaces in Jamaica.
The one-day seminar and exposition was hosted by UTech’s College of Health Sciences, under the theme: ‘A Healthy and Safe Workplace for National Development’.
Presenters at the event examined lifestyle and health challenges for the Jamaican worker, the roles of education and training, and the role of the Government in increasing the level of awareness of the importance of good health and safety practices in the workplace.
Meanwhile, in support of needed academic training in the area of occupational health and safety measures, the College of Health Sciences at UTech will be offering the new Bachelor of Science in Occupational Health and Safety, beginning at the start of the academic year in September 2010.
The course is the first of its kind in the Caribbean region and complements the College’s degree programme in Environmental Health.
Other speakers at the seminar included the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Environmental Health Advisor, Dr. Homero Silva; United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Science Programme Specialist, Cesar Toro; Associate Professor, Dean of the College of Health Sciences, Dr. Eugenie Brown-Myrie; and President, Jamaica Occupational Health Professionals Association (JOHPA) and Occupational Medicine Consultant, WINDALCO, Dr. Owen James.