The Covid -19 pandemic has affected every aspect of work - ranging from how to minimise the spread of the pandemic in workplaces to ensure safety and health of workers.
The risks that emerged as a result of trying to find measures on how to mitigate the pandemic have forced many to adopt new forms of working such as working virtually. However, experts and the employers’ association note that the absence of occupational safety and health (OSH) policy has greatly affected the safety of workers amid the pandemic.
Mr Douglas Opio, executive director, Federation of Uganda Employees (FUE) says that safety at work is greatly affected by limited knowledge, absence of OSH policy and committee.
“Safety of employees is still a major challenge in the work environment. The situation has been worsened by workers being laid off and others forced into temporary leave or to work virtually to ensure continuous running of the business,” Mr Opio says.
He notes that the workplace requires appointing a focal point person to minimise safety related issues whether in theft or health.
“The person can do regular inspection in conjunction with the help of the safety and health committee in place,” Mr Opio says.
These ensure that emergency exits exist, all accidents are investigated, causes identified and corrective measures instituted and regular training on health and safety and OSH audits regularly conducted.
What safety at work entails
Dr Timothy Mugabi, medical doctor at Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) Mulago Hospital defines safety as the absence of preventable harm to an individual and reduction of risk of unnecessary harm associated with health concern to an acceptable minimum.
An acceptable minimum refers to the collective notions of given current knowledge, resources available and the context, weighed against the risk of non-intervention
“Safety is the control of recognised hazards in order to achieve an acceptable level of risk,” Dr Mugabi states.
Health and safety issues at the work place broadly rotate around; accidents, stress, smoke-free environment and indoor air quality.
An accident is an unexplained, uncontrolled event that occurs unexpectedly, typically resulting in damage or injury or loss of property/assets.
Citing reasons for accidents such as unsafe acts (88 per cent), unsafe conditions (10 per cent) and natural reasons (about two per cent), Dr Mugabi notes that health and safety is important because it protects the well-being of employers, visitors and customers/clients.
It is important to note is that health and safety at the workplace depends on workers, supervisors and employers.
How to ensure health, safety
To employees, Dr Mugabi encourages them to follow the law and workplace health and safety policies and procedures, wear and use protective equipment as required, work and act in a way that will not hurt themselves or put any other people at risk and to report any hazards or injuries to their supervisors.
For supervisors, they must tell workers about hazards, dangers and respond to their concerns.
In addition, they should show workers how to work safely, ensure the workers follow the law and workplace health and safety policies and procedures and also wear and use the right protective equipment.
Employers should ensure workers know about hazards and dangers by providing information, instruction and supervision on how to work safely. Furthermore, supervisors should know what is required to protect workers’ health and safety on the job, create workplace health and safety procedures, ensure workers use the right protective equipment and protect workers from being hurt or getting work-related illness.
Mr Sam Oluka, the Security and Safety Manager at Nation Media Group, says safety at work is everyone’s responsibility within the company and as a voluntary role.
“Safety at work is a voluntary responsibility. Since employees come from different backgrounds and lifestyles, it is never easy for everyone to take part in safety voluntarily,” Mr Oluka says.
He cites an example where he needed people to be part of the safety team but no one was willing to take it up because it is an extra job besides their job description that is never paid for.
He adds that most employees require motivation to do a job that is outside their job description.
In addition, safety is a personal responsibility. This means that every employee should ensure that they have a locker where to keep their valuables and always be on guard for the safety of their property.
“Security officers are always on guard to watch out for any wrong characters who disguise themselves as employees yet they are on a mission to steal employees’ or company valuables. That is why identity cards are usually asked before accessing premises,” he adds.
Mr Joseph Ajal, the PrecisionHR Proprietary Ltd CEO, says in order to ensure safety at the workplace there is need for occupational safety and health training, fire drills, proper aeration and ventilation, ergonomic seating, clean drinking water and clean sanitation facilities.
“Fire marshal and first aid training and drills, installation and regular servicing of fire alarms and firefighting equipment like sprinklers, fire extinguishers and water hoses, as well as hydrants should be key,” Mr Ajal says.
He adds that there should be clearly demarcated evacuation routes and assembly points. Public announcement tools like megaphones and brightly illuminated reflector jackets for fire marshals on every floor of every wing of the office complex.
He is quick to note that companies should conduct drilling exercises at least twice a year. For instance; fire extinguisher depends on the type and the minimum amount of time required between each service round.