Worker health and safety: Major obstacles remain

The state agencies also need to develop special national laws, framework, policy and programs for occupational safety and health, which must include actions for providing competent occupational health services for all people at work

For the sustainability and continued development of industrialization, it is essential to have enhanced productivity, which is not achievable without a safe and healthy working environment.

In most of the occupational establishments adequate attention is not paid to making the work and the workplace safe, which may lead to the progress of various work related diseases and accidents.

Occupational health issues are often given less consideration than occupational safety issues because the health issues are generally more difficult to confront. However, when health is addressed, so is safety, because a healthy workplace is by definition also a safe workplace.

What we need to understand is, a so-called safe workplace is not necessarily also a healthy workplace.

The key point is that issues of both health and safety must be addressed in every workplace. Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) is a cross-disciplinary area concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. The goal of all occupational safety and health programs is directed in fostering a safe work environment.

The concept of occupational safety and health of the workers is quite a new concept even to the oldest industries of Nepal and is in its initial stage. The notion of OSH in Nepal has not been able to take root and its principles and ideologies should be made known at all levels.

The government of Nepal has enforced concepts of OSH through its Labour Act 1992. It has highlighted a few issues and provisions on working hours, physical infrastructural setup, yearly medical examination and provisions of safety measures in work etc.

In this light, except for a few enactments under Labour Act 1992, the issues of OSH still lack legal backup. Yet, the Ministry of Health and Population is ignorant about the occupational health issues. No health programs in Nepal address the prevention and control of occupational related diseases and conditions.

Though the Labour Act 1992 states that occupational diseases are required to be reported, it has not defined the list of the occupational diseases and the process for providing welfare and compensation to the workers suffering from occupational diseases.

Though the Government of Nepal established the Occupational Safety and Health Project (OSHP) under the Ministry of Labour and Transport Management in 1995 with the prime objective of improving occupational safety and health in Nepal, it has not been able to obtain a permanent status for long term sustainability.

The major facade to installing the concept of OSH in Nepal lies in the inability of concerned stakeholders to grasp the utility and importance of occupational health services.

Major obstacles in enforcing effective OSH practices in Nepal from the nation’s perspective are least priority of the government, national strategy for OSH management, legal back up mechanism and focal point at government ministries.

The employer or the industries bearing obligation to provide safe working conditions by practicing OSH have an easy exit mechanism in absence of concrete legislation. Few industries have taken prudent measures by establishing OSH setups thereby decreasing vulnerability of hazards.

The reality has a different story to tell, with very few medical facilities and emergency medical backup the issues of OSH are largely overlooked. The labour forces are guided by their political affiliations, lack effective coordination and unity on OSH issues.

They have not been able to cater to the needs of much aspired OSH concerns of workers. Any practice needs a valid and justifiable legal support for its effective enforcement and implementation. Nepal has yet to ratify various international declarations and protocols under OSH chiefly ILO convention 155.

Absence of firm legal grounds, acts and policies have always produced mayhem, so is the case of OSH in Nepal. There is an immediate need for enacting OSH specific legal tools.

The task of maintaining a safe and healthy work environment is not an easy alley to trespass. All the stakeholders should be informed and educated on occupational grounds for an effective occupational response through their meaningful participation.

The government should develop evidence based legislation, policy, framework, and programs on occupational safety and health. The workers should be informed about their rights concerning their working conditions, potential hazards and risks associated with their work and workplace.

The employer should be made to understand that worker’s safety and health are their responsibilities and they should remain obliged to their duties. It is also necessary to make them understand that occupational health services is an investment, and the investment will likely result in motivation, job satisfaction, good ambiance and increased job responsibilities.

The state agencies also need to develop special national laws, framework, policy and programs for occupational safety and health, which must include actions for providing competent occupational health services for all people at work. The program should focus on developing appropriate legal provisions

and systems for effective enforcement for maintaining optimum occupational health and safety at workplace.

Joshi is Senior OSH expert and professor, Kathmandu Medical College