Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Minimise all COVID-19 related risks, lawyer warns employers

Published:Saturday | July 4, 2020 | 12:17 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:

As Jamaica’s economy continues its steady reopening amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, attorney-at-law Khadrea Folkes, former senior legal officer to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, is warning employers to minimise all work-related risks to their employees.

“Risk assessment and risk management is built into the scheme of the Occupational Safety and Health legislation. What it is saying is that, as someone who is going to have people working for you, you yourself have a duty to know what risks are associated with doing the job,” Folkes said, while giving her keynote presentation on the first day of a three-part web-seminar series held under the theme, ‘Keeping your business safe and secure beyond COVID-19’.

The seminar series is being hosted by the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in collaboration with the University of the West Indies and the DunnCox law firm.

In her presentation, Folkes pointed to the lack of transportation for call-centre workers and nurses, two groups of workers directly affected by the pandemic, as examples of how employers should seek to reduce any danger, discrimination or discomfort their employees may face because of COVID-19.

In April, the Government called for a 14-day lockdown of all call centres, following an explosion of COVID-19 cases linked to the Alorica call centre in St Catherine. Later that month, the Nurses Association of Jamaica called for nurses to be provided with transportation during night shifts, as the nightly curfew resulted in transportation difficulties.

“One of the experiences of persons during COVID-19 is that, if you are associated with an outbreak in terms of your workplace or even where you are from, there is a level of discrimination and even violence,” said Folkes. “In situations where persons were at certain call centres, there wasn’t any bus or transportation organised by the employer, and the nurses had an issue getting taxis, and their employer, the Government, could have mitigated [softened] that.”

“You will have to do your own job safety analysis, and not just inform yourself as to identifying the hazards, or looking at who might be affected and how, but also implementing the control [safety mechanism], so that you are looking at ways to eliminate or minimise the risk,” Folkes added.

The Occupational Safety and Health Bill of 2017, which is aimed at providing a balanced framework for the safety and health of workers while on the job, is currently under deliberation. It was previously intended to be passed in Parliament by the end of 2019, but is now set to be passed this year.