Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Editorial | Workplace safety must not be a sidebar

Published:Thursday | April 27, 2017 | 4:00 AM

The boiler room explosion at the RIU Montego Bay hotel last week, in which one man was killed and three others injured, was a grim reminder of parliamentary indifference to occupational safety in Jamaica.

After an overlong gestation of nearly a decade, the Occupational Health and Safety Act was finally tabled earlier this month. But one should be constrained by sobriety, if not cynicism, not be too optimistic, for bills fall off the Order Paper and meander before maturity. And far too often, they take months before being activated because the accompanying regulations have not been drafted and approved.

Despite Jamaica's historically strong union culture, workplace safety has not received the level of scrutiny and political force to ensure that employee health is not jeopardised by dysfunctional equipment and generally unsafe working conditions.

From basic gear such as gloves and hardhats to more complex protective equipment, many Jamaican businesses have had half-hearted commitment to worker safety. Unfortunately, instead of being categorised as an important input, it is bluntly viewed as a trifling expense.

We believe this offhanded posture has been influenced, if not encouraged, by the Jamaican Government - across party lines - leading to the entrenchment of a culture that downplays the worker's right to a safe environment.

Although workplace accidents in Jamaica have, for the most part, been steady, the number of injuries at hotel construction sites over the past decade has raised alarm about the level of oversight being given by municipal corporations, as well as the apparent scant regard to the observance of safety protocols.

 

Debate needed

 

Debate of the bill should rank high on Parliament's legislative agenda. For if our lawmakers are as keenly concerned about worker rights as they purport to be during election campaigns, occupational health and safety should be front and centre of discussion. Indeed, as union leaders will emphasise, it is the poor and undereducated who are most vulnerable to exploitation and exposure to unsafe work practices and environments.

Frankly, the theory is that low-wage workers are oftentimes most expendable and replaceable, and they are more likely to endure dangerous circumstances without a whimper of protest. The Jamaican Parliament should be their voice.