Friday, February 13, 2015

By Shari-Ann Palmer February 13, 2015

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Mrs. Colette Roberts Risden, says the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill is top priority, and will be tabled in Parliament during the next legislative year.

Speaking at a Jamaica Information Service (JIS) ‘Think Tank’ on February 11, the Permanent Secretary said the Bill is very important for the Ministry, as the country seeks to become a signatory of several conventions.

“As a country, we will increasingly be at a disadvantage the longer we take to have this legislation passed,” she said.

Currently, the Factories Act of 1943 is the only law which gives some protection as it relates to safety and health for workers. This Act, Mrs. Roberts Risden said, does not cover the majority of workers, as jobs have evolved.

“[During the period the Act was passed], workers were concentrated in primary industries – agriculture and mining – but with technology there is less manual labour and the face of labour in the workforce has changed. With the increase in technology-related jobs, safety standards have shifted,” she noted.

The OSH Act will replace the Factories Act and will have several added dimensions, including the rights and duties of workers; imposing sanctions; ticketing and revised fines for breaches of regulations; compensation for on-the-job injuries, based on a schedule of injuries; imposition of added responsibility on locations; and businesses which engage in the manufacture and use of chemicals.

Mrs. Roberts Risden said the purpose of the proposed legislation is “to maintain high standards of safety and health at work, while requiring an employer to create and maintain a safe working environment.”

The Permanent Secretary also informed that the Act will provide for the development of a database on various chemicals, focusing on use, handling, composition and possible hazards and how they can be minimized.

Director of the OSH Department, Robert Chung, has given his full support for the law to be passed, as it will address hazards that are not addressed under the current legislation.

“We are seeing different types of hazards, such as psychosocial ones that were not recognized when the Factories Act was promulgated,” he said, adding that the major psychosocial hazard in the workplace is HIV and AIDS, which will also be addressed when the Bill is passed into law.

“We have put some focus on HIV and AIDS more than other psychosocial hazards, because it has impacted our work [places]in such a serious way that we are now forced to take note of it and to move to correct whatever damage it has done,” Mr. Chung said.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), approximately 2 million people die every year from work related accidents and diseases; an estimated 160 million suffer from work related diseases; and an estimated 270 million from fatal and non-fatal work related accidents per year.

When passed, the OSH Act is expected to be in full compliance with existing ILO standards.
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