Workplace safety: Enacting laws remains key to progress

Workplace safety: Enacting laws remains key to progress

Published : Tuesday, 17 September, 2019 at 12:00 AM
Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir 
 

Workplace safety for workers can be termed as one of the most important business issues in today’s world. With introduction of human resource management concepts in the modern economic sphere, employee safety is receiving more and more attention. Especially in the developed countries, workplace safety is given utmost importance but the case is not the same for the developing and least developed countries. Bangladesh is also standing a lot behind in ensuring workplace safety at different organizations.

Till today, it has been the act of the individual organizations in our country but the government has to play a much proactive role in this area. Whatever progress we have made is due to the pressure of the buyers or foreign business partners. But now we need to willingly adopt the concept of workplace safety as with the ongoing developments all around the country, we cannot ignore the human factors any more.

Over 11,000 workers suffer lethal accidents and around 24,500 people die from work related diseases across the country every year. It is also estimated that a further 8 million workers suffer injuries at work, many of which result in everlasting disabilities. Although little research has taken place in Bangladesh, it is internationally recognized that most occupational deaths and injuries are entirely preventable and could be avoided if employers and workers took simple initiatives to reduce hazards and risks at the workplace.

Workplace accidents took away around 302 lives across the country in the last seven months, according to a report of a non-government organization. The report also stated that the January-July period of 2019 saw a total of 240 such accidents. It also added that at least 592 workers were killed in 484 workplace accidents in 2018. 220 people died in as many as 168 workplace accidents during the same period of 2017. The number of deaths in construction sector and from lightning strikes has declined, but the picture of others sectors and sub-sectors remain almost the same, according to the report.

Moreover, due to hazardous working environment, the workers usually lose their capability to work. Their working life can even get reduced from 25 to 5 years only. When a worker loses his working capacity, he has to leave the work or the employer terminates him. This puts his life in jeopardy as he even becomes a burden on his family. On several instances, the hazardous working conditions have destroyed many lives and now, it is high time to focus on working environment as well as to establish proper compensation for the victims of such workplace hazards.

With several incidents over the last few years which includes severe incidents like Rana Plaza tragedy, Bangladesh is also trying to improve the scenario during the last few years while cooperating with different local and foreign organizations.

The International labour Organization (ILO) is working in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (BEF), National Coordination Committee for Workers Education (NCCWE), Industrial Bangladesh Council (IBC) and social partners such as the Occupational Safety and Health and Environment (OSHE) Foundation and the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) etc. They are working to adopt a preventative safety and health culture by strengthening national occupational safety and health (OSH) systems. The priority of these organizations is removing the hassles at workplace while promoting human factors.

An occupational mishap can harm the reputation of a company and have grave legal and financial consequences for the company and its management. Top management has the overall obligation for ensuring health and safety in the company. This means that top management will be considered responsible for the accident; unless they can demonstrate that they have taken the necessary actions to manage health and safety in the company.

This is why it is important that top management puts in place a system for the management of health and safety similar to those in place for other aspects of management. The key elements of such a system are depicted and required in the Bangladesh Labour Act (BLA) and Bangladesh Labour Rules (BLR). Putting in place a proactive learning-based system not only prevents injuries, deaths and destruction of property but also has direct impact on the performance of the organization. Management of health and safety hence also makes good business sense.

Workplace health and safety conditions in Bangladesh have seen stable improvements since the disastrous Rana Plaza incident which claimed 1,136 lives few years ago.

According to the 2018 report of Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health, and Environment Foundation (OSHE), the number of work-related deaths and injuries were 898 and 341 respectively. While this is still a substantial number, it is definitely lower than that of the preceding two years. Experts have consistently pointed to the lack of implementation of labour laws as the reason behind the persisting cases of work-related deaths and injuries.

The Bangladesh Labour Act (BLA) was promulgated in 2006, consolidating over 25 pre-existing laws on various labour-related issues. BLA contains multiple chapters dedicated to the issue of occupational safety, health and hygiene.

Chapter V of the Act has laid out the hygiene measures to be undertaken in establishments with thorough details, ranging from the manner in which the interiors must be cleaned to the water that should be used in case of artificial humidification. Many health concerns including inhalation of harmful particles, ventilation, temperature, adequate toilet facilities and proper lighting are addressed within this Chapter. On the other hand, Chapter VI of the Act addresses safety concerns such as fire, machineries and other hazardous work conditions.

Section 61 gives the Inspector discretion to determine whether the fire safety and precautions of an establishment is satisfactory and act accordingly, through a written order to the employer to either take necessary measures or to halt the use of such establishment. As per the Labor Rules 2015, inspection must be made before the granting or renewal of license.

BLA places a great amount of reliance on the Inspector’s judgment in determining most of the safety concerns in the workplace. For such reliance to be effective, significant professional and technical expertise of inspectors must be ensured and sufficient number of such persons must be employed.

However, one impressive aspect of the Act is that it allows workers to communicate their safety concerns to the employer under Section 86. The employer shall be liable to compensate if they fail to address such concerns and a worker is injured as a result. Unfortunately, this creates a corrective rather than a preventive approach and thus curbs its effectiveness.
Furthermore, it could be interpreted that BLA 2006 addresses the concerns regarding sexual harassment in Section 332.

But according to the experts, the wording of the Section is too vague and the provision does not mention any consequence for its violation. Another inadequacy of the Act is its provisions regarding compensation for work-related death or injury, which is vital to drive the organizations or employers from a reactive to proactive role.

According to the Act, the maximum amount that can be paid in cases of death and permanent disability are 1 lac taka and 1.25 lac taka respectively. Never the less, BLA can be termed as a great outline considering the context of Bangladesh.

Apparently the laws are with very ambitious safety provisions despite few critical and clear deficiencies.

Lack of implementation, shortage of skilled inspectors and delays in Labour Courts altogether mean that occupational health and safety remains as one of the significant concerns for the workforce in Bangladesh. The Government must address them in order to sustain the economic growth it takes prides on.

Government should create awareness among the employers as well as employees as most of them are hardly aware of the labour laws. Campaign on workplace safety is very rare in Bangladesh but the organizations themselves should run such campaigns while the government and NGOs play a supportive role.

The workforce should know about their workplace safety rights to avoid any fatalities in the future. The inspections should be more effective and training of Inspectors is highly required. A group of Inspectors need to be developed as there is tremendous requirement not met with the current group. Most importantly, corruption must be eliminated when it comes to the safety of the workers and employees as that will ensure a no way out scenario for failures to ensure workplace safety.

Till now, workplace safety is concentrated on the areas of RMG and construction sites. The accidents in these two areas have declined in numbers which reflects that good intent and timely actions can bring in success in containing such mishaps.

But along with that all other workplaces like; government and private organizations should also focus on workplace safety and the government should create an environment where every institution actually keeps this issue as a priority. Otherwise, incidents like at FR Tower will create more havoc in the future. Different shops, markets, educational institutes, small factories, corporate offices should also made aware of employee safety and must get aware of the importance of a safe working environment.

Bangladesh is prospering as huge developments works are underway under the guidance of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. It is now time to focus on human factors along with material developments as it is practiced in the developed countries. If the progress is not reflected in the lives of the people, then the good works of the government cannot be realized wholly.

 

We hope the government and the relevant authorities along with the non-government organizations will play an effective and proactive part in ensuring safety at workplace for all sorts of organizations as well as production sites so that workplace hassles are driven to the minimal and no lives are lost in tragedies. With the welfare of the workers and human resource, Bangladesh will move much further.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, DemocracyResearch Center (DRC)