Sun | Jun 20, 2021

OSH Bill may need to be overhauled due to COVID-19

Published:Friday | May 7, 2021 | 12:12 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
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The changes dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic have so radically redefined the traditional working environment and workplace that legislation such as the pending and long overdue Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill could be in need of a further overhaul by the time it is tabled in Parliament.

Dean of the College of Business and Management at the University of Technology, Dr Andrea Sutherland, underscored the need for policymakers to keep track of the many and varied changes that are occurring, which are directly related to workplace changes.

“We are in unprecedented times and as we continue to navigate the challenges posed by this COVID-19 pandemic, what it has brought home is the fact that we are really now focused on workplace health and safety. Many of us in the past thought of workplace safety as being related to persons who worked in areas that had a high probability of say physical injury and exposure to dangerous chemicals and those sorts of things.

“What the pandemic has brought home to us in the current situation, is that it has forced us to acknowledge that there are many aspects to the whole issue of workplace safety and health. We have now come to a workplace where a handshake is no longer a gesture that is used to close an agreement. We have come to the situation where small huddles, which were regular format for making decisions, sometimes can be harmful and so we now have to recognise all the psychological, emotional and social pressures that we are exposed to.”

Sutherland was addressing Wednesday’s hosting of a virtual conference on ‘Workplace Safety and Wellness: The Implications for Employee Productivity in Jamaica’ by UTech. She explained that production under the most challenging of circumstances will give rise to questions that would have been deemed unnecessary or irrational in the past.

These include: How do we define the workplace? How will we ensure workplace safety when the workplace has become so diverse? What will this new environment require of us and how will the changes impact productivity, while ensuring health and safety?

Another realisation in this changing dynamic, according to Sutherland, is that workplace hazards are not necessarily the ones we knew before but newer intangibles that we are faced with in this new environment and the need to promote an ethos of workplace safety among each other.

NEW NORMAL

“What this pandemic has done, it has shown us that a safety attitude is not just reserved for the workplace. It is much easier I think, if safety becomes a something of a lifestyle no matter the environment we are in, as we prepare for our new normal in the workplace.”

Meanwhile, minister of state in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Zavia Mayne, drew attention to the urgency of getting the Occupational and Safety Health Bill passed into law, given the disturbing statistics presented by the International Labour Organization..

“Annual statistics from ILO show that every year approximately 340 million occupational accidents happen and 160 million workers suffer from work-related illnesses globally. The statistics are extremely worrisome and underscore the fact that, each year, occupational injuries and illnesses have a significant human cost and ultimately impacts workplace productivity.

SAFE AND HEALTHY

“We must all recognise our collective responsibility to strive towards elimination occupational accidents, injuries and illnesses by ensuring that all work places are safe and healthy. Multiple global research publications demonstrate a direct correlation between greater levels of productivity in workplaces that have adopted a culture of safe and healthy work practices, versus those that have no regard or scant regard for safety.”

Mayne pointed out that unacceptable and unsafe work conditions are a recipe for lower profits and missed opportunities, and the situation becomes even graver with the add-on effects of negative impact on productivity. These can extend to and include legal and medical costs, damaged products and higher insurance costs. For this reason, he said management practices must be underscored by the interdependence of occupational safety and productivity.

“Safety and health protocols and production targets should not be created in silos, instead the strategies for both should be aligned and this may be a problem if the strategic enterprise has not be defined or has not been effectively communicated to the workers. While occupational safety and health should always be a priority, the results of these measures will have greater long-run outcomes, if productivity improvement measures are considered as complementary and a trade-off in the process.”