Thu | Dec 8, 2016

More protection for workers - Occupational safety law being fast tracked

Published:Sunday | February 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Colette Roberts Risden (right), makes a point during a JIS ‘Think Tank’ while director of the Occupational, Safety and Health Department in the ministry, Robert Chung looks on.

With more than 380 work-related accidents, and a number of on-the-job deaths reported in the last fiscal year, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Colette Roberts Risden, is warning that Jamaicans will continue to be at a disadvantage until the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill is passed.

Speaking at a Jamaica Information Service (JIS) 'Think Tank' last week, Roberts Risden said the passing of the bill is also important in light of Jamaica's intent to become a signatory to several conventions.

"As a country, we will increasingly be at a disadvantage the longer we take to have this legislation passed," warned Roberts Risden.

According to the 2013-2014 annual report produced by the ministry, it received 383 accident reports for the year, and there were seven fatalities. However, Roberts Risden pointed out that the Factories Act of 1943 is the only law which gives some protection as it relates to safety and health for workers, and this does not cover the majority of workers.

"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," said Roberts Risden.

She was supported by Robert Chung, director of the ministry's OSH department, who argued that when the new legislation is passed, it will address hazards that are not addressed under the current law.

"We are seeing different types of hazards, such as psychosocial ones that were not recognised when the Factories Act was promulgated," said Chung.

The much-anticipated bill has been a long time in coming, but Roberts Risden has assured that it is top priority, and will be tabled in Parliament during the next legislative year.

The OSH Act will represent an upgrade to the existing Factories Act, and will include areas such as the rights and duties of workers, imposing sanctions, compensation for on-the-job injuries, ticketing and revised fines for breaches of regulations based on a schedule of injuries, and the imposition of added responsibility on locations and businesses which engage in the manufacture and use of chemicals.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com