Your editorial ‘Stepping up our occupational safety and health record’ (SN: 14/04/2019) stated, ‘Historically, the Ministry of Social Protection (it used to be called the Ministry of Labour, previously) has, over the years, been markedly indifferent to its responsibility in the matter of the effective enforcement of workplace safety regulations. Notably, it has been slow, in those instances where transgressions occur, to move to impose the requisite penalties against the transgressors; so that however delinquent workplaces have been in their transgression of safety and health laws the Ministry itself has been no less culpable in terms of its own overarching responsibilities.’
I have to take exception to this, for having been at the Ministry of Labour from October 1992 to 2001, I left a brief for my successor which stated that, ‘1993 to 2000 can easily be defined as the golden era of OSH (Occupational Safety and Health). Inspections of workplaces increased by 20% and there has been a 72% reduction in the number of reported workplace accidents. (Industrial Accidents reduced from 8338 in 1993 to 3335 in 1997 and were 2370 in 1999). Days and wages lost were reduced by approximately 85%.
`A National Advisory Council on OSH was established in 1993 and restructured in 1996. It comprises representatives of various stakeholders and its role is an advisory one. This body meets regularly and has assisted the Ministry in crafting a National Policy on OSH and to develop a National Plan of Action. The National Policy on OSH was crafted in 1993 and has since been revised. It is intended to serve as a guide to good workplace safety and health practices. The National Plan of Action was developed to implement the articles of the National Policy on OSH. This document outlines the prevailing conditions, defines activities, sets objectives and specifies the expected results.
`The OSH Act was passed in 1997 and brought into force in 1999. Regulations to augment the Act are now being addressed. The OSH Department has recently expanded its activities to include HIV/AIDS prevention and protection. A $5m project is in place which utilises the workplace safety and health committees and arrangements.
`In the future the government will: establish the OSH Authority as required by the 1997 Act, work to strengthen workplace safety committees, take safety issues more forcefully into the school system and improve staffing and staff mobility.’
Indeed, speaking to me about the ministry as a whole at cabinet one day, my successor Mr. Manzoor Nadir I believe, humorously accused me of not leaving at lot for others to do! However, if the situation in OSH management is indeed as you have portrayed it, somewhere and gradually along the way that little has again become humongous!
Henry B Jeffrey