Just as swift action is taken when an accident occurs on the job, a sense of urgency should be applied when notifying the Labour Department of the incident.
This was the underlying theme of the presentation made by Safety and Health Officer, Sandy Miller, as he addressed the Coverley Medical Centre’s Occupational Health and Wellness seminar, held earlier this month at the Accra Beach Hotel.
Miller, who highlighted some of the functions of the Accidents and Occupational Diseases Notification Act, argued that reporting accidents to his department was crucial, not only to determine their cause but to prevent future occurrences.
“Accidents arising out of or during the course of employment of any worker which results in death or that worker being injured and having to be away from work for more than three days must be reported to the Chief Labour Officer forthwith. What we have been finding is most people don’t seem to understand the meaning of ‘forthwith’…
“Sometimes an accident occurs and we get notification a year later — that is too late. A year later means the circumstances which led to that accident may still be there, a year later means that we may get notifications of accidents for not one but four persons in the same area or carrying out the same task,” he stressed.
Speaking about the procedures involved in alerting the ministry about accidents, Miller noted that there was a statutory form for employers to submit to the department. This, he said, “gives us the opportunity to come into your workplace and conduct an accident investigation… The purpose of that is to find the root cause of the accident…, not to assign blame”, he assured, adding that a report was then produced to highlight the findings.
The safety and health officer reminded those gathered that every employer should have a book on site to record all workplace accidents. This record, he said, must be made available to the Chief Labour Officer or his representatives upon request and should include: the name and address of the injured party; his or her occupation; the date and time the accident occurred; the type of machinery, if any, involved in the accident; and the nature of the injury suffered.
These records, Miller said, not only served the needs of the Labour Department, but also allow “employers to build a statistical base to put mechanisms in place to prevent accidents”.
The Labour Department representative also reminded the audience that accidents and incidents were a reality for all types of work spaces, even offices. He noted that common illnesses, such as asthma, were sometimes classified as occupational diseases because the symptoms were caused by the workplace.
“We have moved away from an agrarian society to one where we have a number of workers being housed in closed spaces … [with] no natural ventilation. We are cooled by an air condition unit … [in offices] many of the ducts that we have found, even though the air handling units are serviced, many of the ducts are covered with dust. That dust is blown out from the system into the working environment and the breathing zones of [employees],” he cautioned.
Although a list of recognised occupational diseases exists for Barbados, Miller informed the audience that “the Minister has the power to extend the current list of occupational diseases…”.
“So, if there are a number of persons who have become ill as a direct result of something in the workplace … and that has been brought to the attention of the Labour Department, then the minister, by regulation, may add that illness to our current list…,” he added.
Making the observation that prevention was better than cure, the safety officer emphasised that the key to OSH was to assess the risk associated with all work, whether in an office, factory or construction site; and ensuring that the employee is given the appropriate tools or personal protective equipment to produce quality work in a healthy and safe environment.