Matters that many may consider personal — such as sexual conduct and use or abuse of drugs — do, in fact, concern and affect the workplace.
This was the over-arching message of by Industrial Relations Officer with the Barbados Employers Confederation, Sean Daniel, as he addressed participants at the Occupational Safety and Health Week seminar series at Accra Beach Hotel.
Daniel asserted that the root causes of Barbados’ human resource challenges, from absenteeism to extended periods of sick leave, were not as obvious as one may assume.
“Drug abuse or substance abuse is a coping mechanism and it is on the rise. We have encountered situations where persons, when confronted with a positive toxicology report, say to the employer; ‘I don’t use [drugs] at the workplace… That is none of your business’.
“But then these people have to drive a vehicle, [or] handle chemicals or make decisions that can affect persons and businesses if they don’t do their job correctly. How do you deal with that? …[A]nd if [the employers] have systems in place where they do become aware of a substance abuse issue and they do not treat to it, does that make them liable if that employee then has an accident?” he queried.
An even more taboo subject, one’s personal sexual practices, also had relevance in the discussion on safety and health in the workplace, with Daniel revealing that poor sexual health practices affect the workforce, “whether it is for economic gain or it is as a coping mechanism or as a result of coping mechanisms such as drinking…
“Poor sexual health practices increase the risk of HIV and AIDS … which primarily affects the working population. Going back to productivity [and] absenteeism, you can’t be as productive as you could be if you’re dealing with a life threatening illness,” he stressed, adding that this also applied to persons with cancer, diabetes or similar diseases.
Poor diet and exercise, which often lead to Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases, also had to be factored in, Daniel noted. He further pointed out that mental illness, stress and clinical depression was on the rise, “with persons having to take time off from work, not because they’re physically ill, but they’re mentally not able to cope with the stress at the workplace”, the officer said.
The solution, the BEC officer stressed, was to understand the challenges faced by employees and conduct research which would provide data to represent the country’s current state. This, he explained, would assist in creating a fully functional and productive workforce.
“Safety and health systems can be costly, but they’re necessary,” Daniel said. “The long-term goal that we have as employers and [that] we should have as a nation, is that any safety and health management system should eliminate work related fatalities, injuries and illnesses…
“There are still too many companies that do not share information, that do not collect information… Sometimes getting information from companies is like pulling teeth… We need to collect safety and health statistics [on] accidents, injuries, illnesses, on a routine basis, and be able to share. That’s the only way we can have measurable statistics and have measurable improvements.”
Speaking to BEC’s efforts to facilitate positive change, Daniel noted that, in addition to their existing risk assessment service, they are also in the process of collating statistics relevant to this issue, and he encouraged businesses that were contacted to assist in this regard.
The ultimate goal, he said, was to create a nation of employees that performed at an optimum instead of the absenteeism and burgeoning sick leave culture which seemed to now prevail.
“When we speak to persons who have come to Barbados from overseas to set up businesses here, it is something that we always speak to — Why is it so high? Why is it so generous? So, it’s something that we have to look at. We are in a global village.”