MARTIN NKOLOMBA and LUCY LUMBE, Livingstone
NICHOLAS Mumba worked as a furnace attendant at a mine in Chingola. He went to work with the same reasons as most people, chief of which was earning a living.
His loved ones were happy with the efforts he made each day to ameliorate his socio-economic conditions and those of the people around him in one way or the other.
Like most progressive young people, Mumba had a dream, which, unfortunately, would almost be shattered by a mishap at work.
Molten copper spilled into his mouth and ran down his gastro-intestinal tract, causing corrosive injury.
Since then, life has not been the same for him.
The accident has presented a huge challenge to Mumba, a young and once energetic man in earnest pursuit of a good and productive life.
Thankfully, he was recently evacuated to India by the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB). This was, of course, after local medical doctors recommended so.
This story is just one of a myriad others of people who have immeasurably suffered from accidents and employment-related ailments.
What is even more sobering are the unforgiving statistics of workers who have lost lives offering their services to unavoidably make ends meet.
Accidents and contraction of diseases at the place of work have long been a nightmare of many a worker not only in Zambia but all over the world, more so for those in inherently dangerous industries such as extraction and manufacturing.
Apparently, majority of accidents resulting in life-threatening diseases and deaths have been and are significantly preventable, according to experts in occupational health.
Against this background, WCFCB and the International Social Security Association (ISSA), in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, have uncompromisingly declared total war against accidents and ailments in the workplace.
They did this recently when they launched Vision Zero at Avani Hotel in Livingstone in splendour and pomp, making Zambia the fourth country in Africa to do so after Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ghana.
To people like Mumba and everyone who understands the value of health and safety at the workplace, this is no mean achievement. It is also good news.
The colourful event was attended by numerous stakeholders from within and outside the country, including Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Germany.
As was abundantly made clear by speaker after speaker at the launch, Vision Zero is a global campaign to respond to the rising number of occupational accidents and diseases.
It was launched by ISSA in Singapore last year (2017) at the body’s 21st world congress on safety and health.
WCFCB commissioner and chief executive officer, Elizabeth Nkumbula, told a multi-faceted audience that, from a global perspective, 394 million occupational accidents were recorded from April 2016 to March 2017 with 2.8 million deaths, and further, that the compensation fund recorded 1,027 accidents the same period.
By any standards, the figures should be looked upon as awful, which is why the two occupational health organisations have embarked on the Vision Zero campaign.
They believe with the help of everyone, accidents in the workplace will significantly become a thing of the past.
Dr Nkumbula stated this in very clear terms at the launch.
“At WCFCB, we believe that accidents and occupational diseases at work are neither predetermined nor unavoidable – they always have causes. And by building a strong prevention culture, the causes can be eliminated,” she said.
Vision Zero is a transformational prevention method which embraces the three dimensions of safety, health and well-being at all workplaces.
Its objectives are; providing a global strategy, platform and resources in support of eradication of accidents in the workplace, encouraging synergies among prevention organisations worldwide through a joint campaign, and supporting businesses in the development of a workplace prevention culture based on Vision Zero.
The campaign has the following golden rules:
1. Taking leadership
2. Identifying hazards
3. Defining targets
4. Ensuring a safety and health system
5. Ensuring safety and health in machines, equipment and workplaces
6. Improving qualifications
7. Investing in people
Minister of Labour and Social Security Joyce Simukoko described the launch of Vision Zero as “a timely intervention by WCFCB and ISSA” and commended the two organisations, together with their local and international partners, for their proactive approach to accident prevention and helping Government take leadership in ensuring workplaces in Zambia are safe and healthy.
Local partners include the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA), National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA), Zambia Sugar and Zesco, while ISSA and Occupational Safety and Health Institute (OSHI) – Africa are among the international partners.
In a speech read for her by her Permanent Secretary Barnaby Mulenga, Mrs Simukoko said no fatality at the workplace is acceptable.
“Therefore, a new mindset that accepts no fatality, no injury and no disease at work, is required to protect the poorest and least informed workers who continue to face the highest risks in terms of employment-related accidents and diseases,” she said.
Accidents and diseases at the workplace hugely negate a country’s socio-economic development strides, the minister said.
“Occupational accidents and diseases present colossal social and economic burdens to enterprises in the local and global economy, and the attendant impact of injuries, diseases and deaths is directly interpreted in appalling human and financial stress on communities and countries across the world.”
ISSA representative Helmut Hens said health should be a key component of safety initiatives at the workplace.
“We have to talk about safety in a different way. We have to talk about health, don’t forget health,” Mr Hens said.
He said there is also need for the inclusion of workers in the informal sector in occupational safety and health initiatives.
OSHI Africa representative Iden Ehimare called for organisations championing occupational safety and health to come up with a single policy that should be presented to the African Union.
He said every African country should make efforts aimed at creating safe and healthy workplaces.
Mr Ehimare said the importance of safety and health in the workplace cannot be over-emphasised.
“It’s so obvious that every child wants his father [or mother] to go to work and come back safe. It would be bad if they go to university without a father,” he said emphatically.
Pledging full support to Vision Zero as head of one of its strategic partners, NAPSA director-general Yollard Kachinda said the campaign will help workers enjoy their pension peacefully.
“It’s not good retirement where, every time, a retiree is lining up at the hospital. We want to ensure our retirees enjoy their pension in good health. We don’t want our pensioners to go early,” Mr Kachinda said.
There’s no doubt that once everyone plays their part, the way they should, Vision Zero will significantly reduce workplace ailments and accidents such as the one Mumba suffered. If anything, there is no doubt that the two impediments will be eliminated, which is the true spirit of the campaign.
MARTIN NKOLOMBA and LUCY LUMBE, Livingstone