OSH needs 30 safety inspectors, expects year-end spike in workplace accidents
Avia Collinder, Business Reporter
The department that polices workplace safety said trend data indicates industrial accidents are likely to spike toward the end of the calendar year, when companies ramp up production for the high-shopping season, but that it is currently without the requisite manpower to promote adherence to safety rules.
The Occupational Safety and Health Department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, OSH, said it would have liked to place an additional 30 inspectors in the field between July and September.
The labour ministry's 2013/14 annual performance report indicates that that accidents were up by 75 per cent, and that most were recorded in the third and fourth quarter of the fiscal year.
For January to March, there were 120 accidents, 98 in the December quarter, 89 in the September quarter and 76 from April to June 2013.
Robert Chung, director in charge of OSH, said his department has no mitigation programme in place due to its limited number of inspectors - a corps of 16.
"Every year when we get down into the last quarter of the year, people get more overtime, the industries step up their economic activity in order to meet the December rush or the Yuletide rush, and so you find - because they step up their activities - you get a lot of accidents during that period. It happens annually," said Chung.
For January, he theorised, the uptick in accidents might be a spillover.
But OSH, he said, might be able to contain the surge in workplace accidents if it had enough inspectors in the field promoting safety rules.
"We are not able to cover any gaps. We are just able to do the basics," Chung told Wednesday Business.
"Even sometimes when there is phenomenon like that, like back in 2007 we discovered there was an increase in accidents in Montego Bay, we only had one officer down there."
OSH's 16 inspectors cover the entire island, with only about two thirds available for field work at any given time.
"At any one time, three of them are on leave and three of us only do administrative work out of that 16, so you have six, at any one time, not on active duty," said Chung. "So you find we only have 10 inspectors on active duty at any one time."
As for the prospects of recruiting the other 30 inspectors needed, the OSH head said his department was unlikely to get approval for the hires, given that the public sector is in contraction mode.
"We should be doing OSH promotions from July to September but we can't stop inspections to do promotions work," he said.
The labour ministry's report indicates that of the number of accidents reported in 2013-14, some 204 qualified for investigation, but only 91 were investigated.
In 2012/13, the ministry reported 219 accidents, and 383 in 2013/14 - a 74.9 per cent spike. A total of seven deaths were associated with the accidents reported, four more than the previous year.
Chung said accidents were mainly increasing in the manufacturing sector. But he cautioned that the overall spike may be due not to substantially more accidents, but late reporting and as such, the statistics could be misleading.
"The blow-up in numbers for 201314 may be due to the addition of reported accidents, which OSH is not currently mandated to investigate," he told Wednesday Business.
""There are some accidents which are reported but which are not investigatable because we operate under the Factories Act. While we may investigate all accidents that we get, some of them are not usually in the statistics. If they were included - as they may have been this year - it would look like a blow-up when, in fact, all along they were not reflected in the statistics," said the workplace-safety expert.
Passage of the pending Occupational Safety and Health Bill into law is expected to bring an additional 22,000 workplaces under OSH's scrutiny.