Workplace should be a source of livelihood, not ill health

Monday December 9 2019


By Dr Agaba Marianna Nyangire

Occupational safety and health is an interdisciplinary field of science that is concerned with protection, promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of the general well-being of workers. This specialty of public health mainly looks at protection of the health of workers from diseases and injuries from hazardous work-related exposures and improvement of the work environment so that no harm befalls one who is trying to earn a living.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), approximately 2.3 million deaths result from occupational injuries or diseases, while 160 million people suffer from occupational diseases alone, annually. Similarly, more than 300 million workers are involved in non-fatal occupational accidents causing serious injuries and at least four days of absence from work, annually; this translates into 153 workers every 15 seconds.
Together, fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries result in about 10.5 million Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs); that is, about 3.5 years of healthy life is lost per 1,000 workers every year globally.
Safety and health not only concerns workers, their families and communities, but also businesses, as well as individual country and global economies whose performance depends on maintaining workplace safety.
Accidents at work result in loss of skilled and unskilled but experienced labour, material loss, i.e. damage to machinery and equipment, as well as spoiled products, costs of medical care, payment of compensation and repairing or replacing damaged machinery and equipment.
Hazards in the workplace create both economic and human costs. A recent incident of an explosion at a factory in Banda, Kampala, left one dead and six people injured; a clear reminder about the importance of having a system at workplace which protects workers from similar accidents and fatalities.
It is the sole responsibility of employers to ensure the safety and health of their employees by preventing their exposure to occupational risks, including all machinery, processes, chemicals and substances, and thus avoiding the occurrence of such occupational diseases and injuries that may even result in disability.
To achieve this goal, employers should train workers in the use of equipment and machinery, provide adequate and appropriate personal protective equipment without any charge. Adequate supervision is also paramount, as well as implementing measures to reduce excessive mental and physical fatigue so as to prevent ‘burn out’.
Despite occupational safety and health being an obligation for employers at work places, awareness about it must involve the general public at large, given that a big proportion of it constitutes the workforce, which contributes to our economic growth. If knowledge about the importance about occupational safety and health is low, it will cause poor work procedures and unsafe work environments that will result into reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, reduced employment longevity and reduced quality of health resulting from occupational injuries and disease.
With such poor indicators of occupational safety and health, Uganda’s vision of achieving middle income status by 2030 will inevitably be impeded. It is, therefore, important for us all to endeavour to learn more about and adhere to proper work place practices in our respective occupations to help us achieve a solid occupational safety and health culture that will pave way for not just ourselves, but the next generations to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Remember, a work place is meant to be a source of livelihood and not of ill health.
Dr Nyangire is an occupational physician, Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Devt