Rising temperatures raise concerns
THE intensifying heatwave has occasioned renewed urgent calls for companies to establish an occupational safety and health (OSH) policy, according to one lecturer at The University of the West Indies (The UWI), Mona.
“It is critical that there is a legal requirement to ensure that workers are protected because legal liability will ensue. It is because of negligence, the failure to put measures in place that somebody falls ill or somebody dies,” said Dr Paul Brown, lecturer in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences, while speaking with the Jamaica Observer.
An OSH policy is an employer’s written commitment to the health and safety of both their employees and their workplace. Currently, there is no OSH policy at the national level, despite announcements in March 2022 by then Labour Minister Karl Samuda during the sitting of the Standing Finance Committee to enact the Occupational Safety and Health Act that same year. The UWI, Mona, has, however, been proactive in leading the way in the implementation of its own OSH policy in June of this year. The policy has been approved with some aspects being implemented.
Brown is, however, calling on the Government to lead the way in the passing of the Act as it can reduce costs associated with workplace accidents, injuries, and illnesses.
“It will take a lot of financial investment to put the policy in action, but I can tell you, inaction will be treated as negligence and if that goes to court because something happens, each case that occurs could be setting back that company several million Jamaican dollars. So it is costly not to do anything, even though it will cost to implement. The cost to implement is going to be much less than trying to deal with lawsuit and insurance payout because they will come,” he warned.
He notes there is reluctance among workers to report instances where they feel uncomfortable, and having an OSH policy in place will foster a culture in a climate of reporting, interaction and understanding the nature of occupational safety and health by encouraging workers to report any discomfort.
“Some people have even fainted on the job. You know, initially you feel hot, you start to sweat a little bit, you feel that first thing, but if it goes further that you actually get dizzy, you can’t focus, you can’t concentrate, mistakes are going to be made, [and] that is actually going to be detrimental to the job,” Brown told the Business Observer.
While he notes an OSH policy widely covers the importance of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) based on the nature of the environment, the heat has created a “conundrum”, in this case. “It’s a risk versus risk analysis, where there is the safety of the workers on one hand, but also the sustainability of the business,” he said.
However, in the absence of adequate cooling or ventilation, he says an employer must decide how best to mitigate the situation and reduce the risk of the heat-related issues to the employee and the person must be comfortable.
“If the AC unit, etc, is down they have to get it fixed, or they have to get some cooling system installed. I see the increase in the use now of portable AC cooling systems, fans, etc, but a lot depends on the environment because sometimes you can’t have that kind of convection in a particular space because if there is dust that will cause another problem, but cooling must be there,” stated Brown.
He further suggested that, where possible, companies change the location for the activity that is taking place. That might involve renting a location that is cooler and conducive to what it is that the employee needs to get done. This, he says, might be more cost-effective as it might not be possible based on a time frame to do all the installation and remediation.
“Another option to consider is having emergency medical personnel or safety wardens on site to assist if there is anything immediate or to get people to a health centre,” he added.
Brown is urging the Government, or the individuals that are involved, to get the Act passed as quickly as possible because it is long overdue. “It was initially presented in 2017, [and] six years later we still don’t have an OSH Act, so if the Government was serious, if persons in the industry are serious, they would agitate, they would get it done because it is needed,” Brown said sternly.
He is also appealing to companies that don’t have a policy in place as yet to at least have something in place. He shared that various standards are available to guide companies in terms of how it is that it will draft such a document. The UWI, Mona uses the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards out of the United States and operates under the current ISO 45 guidelines which deal with occupational health and safety.
“In the absence of the OSH Act being passed, individual companies, maybe through the private sector organisation or manufacturers association, maybe they can organise a team through their associations to assist the member companies,” he said.