Safety at work should be responsibility of all parties

Friday May 3 2019

Work environment. Workers in protective gear go

Work environment. Workers in protective gear go about their duty at the Orion Transformers and Electrics Limited plant in Namanve industrial park, Mukono District. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

By Eric Kyama

In December 2012, Kassim Suuna, a former Mukwano employee lost two fingers in a factory accident. Suuna was allegedly terminated without compensation. Suuna’s case was widely covered in the media after he was assaulted by police officers outside the company’s offices in Kampala. He said he had pitched camp at the premises to demand compensation.

The Occupation Safety and Health Act, 2006, describes the obligation of the employer at a workplace as one that is meant to ensure employee safety at the workplace by putting in place mechanisms that bring about employee safety and, in case of any accident, compensation. There is doubt whether most employers in Uganda today put into practice what the occupation safety and health act states. This entirely means that most employees being employed in Uganda are at risk.

Occupation safety policy
Mesilemu Oloka, the deputy secretary general, National organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU), says before an employee agrees to work at any workplace, one of the things they need to ensure presence of an occupation safety policy.
“In case employees find that their employer doesn’t have a health policy, then the best thing they can do is to pull out of any employment agreement or not sign incase they hadn’t yet signed,” he advises.

Oloka says not finding out whether an employer or current employer has a safety policy puts employees lives in danger in case of an accident. He adds that if safety at a workplace is to be achieved, both employers and employees have to work towards achieving this.
“One of the things an employer needs to do to ensure safety at work,” Oloka says, “is to make sure that they have a policy that is meant to bring about safety at a workplace.”

He also adds that an employer is responsible for sensitising their employees about work safety and provide safety equipment during work.
This awareness, Oloka says, can help reduce the risk of accidents in line of duty
“Not ensuring that the work place is safe for employment is a criminal act only punishable through courts of law,” Oloka says.

In case of an accident in line of duty
Accidents at the workplace are sometimes unavoidable. So, in case one gets an accident in line of duty, what should they do?
Milly Nassolo, a practicing lawyer in Kampala, says if an employee’s contract says they are entitled to medical cover, then they can follow procedures at their workplace to access medical care.
“It is almost impossible to avoid accidents during work, especially for professions like engineers. So what one needs to do in case they have suffered an accident in line of duty is for them to report the matter to their managers using procedures put in place by management,” she says.
Nassolo says in some cases, some employers offer health insurance, which helps in such cases while others may be willing to compensate the employee.

When not compensated
Work safety is something that is crucial to employees.
However, in case of an accident in line of duty, an employer is in most cases required to compensate their employee.
Some employers may fail or even refuse to compensate their employees who could have gotten an accident in line of duty.
What should an employee do in case they have not been compensated by their employer(s)?

Compensation, Nassolo says, may depend on the kind of contract one signed with their employer, especially those in the private sector.
“Getting compensated depends on the kind of contract they signed with their employer.
If an employee is at work and in the agreed working time and they suffer an accident, then they are entitled to being compensated by the employer.
This is mostly applicable to employers in the private sector,” says Nassolo.
She also adds that if an employee doesn’t have a contract with an employer then it makes it hard for them to be compensated since they are not official employees with their company/organisation.

“Some people take the issue of going into a contract with their employer for granted. This is risky since it doesn’t guarantee them the right to be compensated on getting an accident in line of duty.
However, the kind of contract one signed with their employer is also important in determining whether they are eligible for compensation or not.
An employee has to make sure compensation on getting an accident in line of duty is included in the contract they are to sign or signed with their employer,” Nassolo says.

What government has done to ensure safety
In an effort to bring about safety at work places, Pius Bigirimana, the permanent secretary, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, says the Ugandan government has carried out massive sensitisation about the subject matter.
This, he says, was has been done with an effort of making the employees aware of their rights in regards to what the occupation safety and health act, 2006, says.

“We have been engaging in massive sensitisation of employees working in Uganda. Our main focus has majorly been on creating awareness about their rights in regards to safety at work looking at what the law says. We are also looking forward to partnering with members in the private sector who we think are competent to help us carry out inspections,” he says.