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Revive health, safety committees at work – Simukoko

WHAT is common to all receives the least attention. Air, water and may we just say the environment. This is what is otherwise known as the tragedy of the commons, and now the collapse of health and safety committees at work becomes the latest addition to the commons receiving the least attention.
People have simply paid the least attention to safety because it is common to us all but Minister of Labour and Social Security Joyce Simukoko has made a timely call to all employers and employees  in the country to embrace occupational health and safety by reviving health and safety committees at places of work.
The minister has observed that health and safety committees at most work places are completely ‘dead’, and that employers and employee representatives often overlook this activity in the present day work environment.
She observed that health and safety committees were very active in yesteryears and that there was virtually no work place in Zambia without such a committee in place but as fate would have it, safety has become the latest casualty of the tragedies of commons.
The minister who was speaking during the Zambia Federation of Employers annual general meeting in Lusaka on Friday last week, further noted that the institution which picked up the liability of compensating workers in the event of accidents at work, was not at the forefront of safety enforcement and compliance in industry.
She said as a result of such a gap, the government was working towards re-aligning the safety function in her ministry with that of the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board.
The minister has made a very important pronouncement on the state of health and safety in our work environment, and we are of the view that this will significantly reduce the increasing incidences of accidents and diseases in our work environments. But what must employers or employees do to revive the health and safety clubs?
We are told that establishing workplace safety committees is one way management can encourage employees to participate in implementing and monitoring the company’s safety programmes. These committees normally attend to;
• Developing safe work practices.
•  Crafting written safety programmes.
• Leading safety training.
• Conducting workplace inspections and safety audits.
• Reviewing incidents, near misses, accident investigation reports, claim summaries and loss analyses to prevent re-occurrences of similar incidents.
• Establishing dispute resolution procedures.
• Propose and create safety checklists.
• Promoting employees’ interests in health and safety issues.
• Providing a forum in which labour and management can discuss health and safety issues and collaborate on solutions.
Ultimately, the purpose of safety committees is to help reduce the risk of workplace injuries and diseases and ensure compliance with laws relating to the health and safety of workers generally. A properly functioning safety committee fulfills several functions which extend to identification of problems, using a range of insights to seek solutions, and have the authority and expertise to implement needed policies which ensure an effective safety programme and the scope of oversight necessary to ensure changes made are effective.
Safety committees need a specific purpose, and mostly it revolves around reviewing accident records and recommending high-frequency areas to be studied or conducting job-safety analyses. The committee could even be tasked with creating and running a behaviour-based safety programme.
However, first things first, the safety committee must be valued by the highest levels of management. Otherwise, the tragedy of commons will reach it and wipe it out of the operating systems for a company. Failure to articulate a purpose and top-heavy management representation are among the mistakes to avoid when establishing a safety committee.
We do hope that safety at our work places will be retrieved from the list of the tragedies of the commons by the pronouncement of the minister to revive the committees in our work places, and we do call on our stakeholders to take the message from the minister seriously.
As we may all know, safety is every one’s responsibility and we all need to take actions in our own right to prevent the occurrence of accidents and diseases in our work places. Sometimes these actions need not be so complicated, as even just keeping our work environment clean is a safety act that can save a life.
Sometimes we think that big actions are the only ones that prevent accidents, and by big we mean policies and systems of preventing accidents, but even individual effort to check out for things in our environment that can harm us go a long way in helping prevent accidents and diseases.
The author is Head – Communications and Customer Services at Workers Compensation Fund Control Board

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