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Occupational safety, health at work

OCCUPATIONAL accident is an unexpected and unplanned occurrence arising out of or in connection with work which results in one or more workers incurring a disease, injury or death. Occupational accidents are considered to be those in which workers are injured and arise out of or in the course of work, i.e. while engaged in an economic activity, or at work, or carrying on the business of the employer. Apparently, these injuries are responsible for more lost time from work, productivity and working years of life than any other health conditions. Sadly, injuries are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among workers. Thousands of people are killed annually in industrial accidents, and the number of disabling injuries is also a staggering figure in Zambia.
For instance, the National Study on Recording and Notification of Occupational Accidents and Diseases in Zambia 2012 report indicates that at the national level, though the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board is not in a position to give information on fatal occupational diseases, there were 5,758 accidents during the period 2003-2007. Of these accidents, 512 were fatal and 3,174 resulted in permanent disablement. Additionally, in the same report, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security estimated that 1,200 accidents and diseases are reported from all industries annually. This occupational injuries and diseases data is for a population of five million economically active Zambians only.
Studying factors that lead to the root causes of accidents can be isolated and necessary steps can be taken to prevent their recurrence. The causes can be grouped as “immediate” and “contributing”. The immediate causes are unsafe acts of the worker and unsafe working conditions. The contributing causes could be management-related factors, the environment and the physical and mental condition of the worker. A combination of causes must converge for them to result in an accident.
This is what brought about the formation of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health Services (OSHS) under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The department studies accidents, identifies possible accidents and trains safety teams to ensure accidents are evaded at all costs. The department is also charged with the responsibility of ensuring safety and health in workplaces through implementation of the provisions of the Factories Act cap 441 of the laws of Zambia and the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 2010. These laws provide for regulation of conditions of employment in factories and other places as regards safety, health and welfare of people working therein. They further provide for inspection of machinery and other categorised equipment covered under the Acts. The department ensures implementation of these pieces of legislation through periodic inspections of factories to eliminate or control hazards that can cause injury and ill health. The hazards include harmful gaseous emissions, corrosive liquids, dust, and unguarded machinery. Ultimately, the principal objective of this department is ensuring that accidents are minimised to the lowest possible level of occurrence and to be more certain that workers are in good health, both physically and mentally. Health is associated with the physical condition of the body and mind. Therefore, people in a work environment are expected to be physically and mentally healthy, and they should not be subjected to harm in the form of injury or disease. To fulfil this obligation of promoting safety in places of work, Government conducts inspections across the country on a regular basis by visiting different factories and construction sites. The inspections may be impromptu or by prior appointment. This is done to ensure that workplaces comply with and embrace the culture of safety in order to safeguard the safety and health of workers and the public. As such, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security currently has OSHS presence in Lusaka, Copperbelt and Southern provinces which cover the entire country in their operations. The ministry further awards certificates to machinery inspected and proved to be in good and safe working condition. Equipment found to be unsafe may be decommissioned or recommended for repairing and subjected to further testing. Processing factories and construction sites found to be non-adherent to the provisions of the law may be suspended pending rectification of such abrogation before operations may be resumed. The OSHS department also conducts sensitisation workshops to willing clients, educating employers and employees on the benefits of good safety policies within organisations and the cost and penalties attached to poor safety culture. Therefore, it is advisable for organisations to report any occupational accidents in good time to avoid recurrence of similar eventualities. In view of the above, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security is consistently encouraging organisations and workers alike to prioritise safety. Managements are always advised to deliberately devise safety policies and come up with programmes aimed at encouraging the continuous sharing of safety knowledge through work teams. Good safety culture saves organisations a lot of such unplanned costs that deter them from meeting their projected targets effectively and efficiently. Improving workplace safety isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a smart investment in the future of any company. Organisations that don’t recognise the importance of safety in the workplace fail to succeed. Finally, making safety a priority begins with exceptional health and safety training for all employees, including management.

The author is a public relations officer at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.