Health And Safety At The Workplace

Few would disagree that the preservation of the health and safety of workers should be the primary objective of employers, employees, trade unions and policymakers. Yet, very often ‘action’ goes no more than paying lip-service.

The management of workplace hazards is becoming a complex science where different stakeholders interact to ensure that workers are exposed to as little risk as possible and that the risks they face are managed well.

Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli is right in expressing concern about the serious nature of workplace accidents that so far this year have resulted in seven deaths. It must also be said that the prevention of workplace accidents cannot be achieved simply by Occupational Health and Safety Authority officials policing workplaces to ensure the laws relating to health and safety are not breached and that reportable incidents are in fact brought to its attention or that of some other entity. Like most western countries, Malta has adequate health and safety laws to insist that a person running a business would ensure the health and safety of workers at their place of work so far as is reasonably practical.

Many associate health and safety risks at work with physical injuries and, indeed, such accidents are usually the most dramatic and visible. But health and safety legislation may need to be updated to include other hazards that can be just as debilitating on workers if they are not managed well.

Statistics submitted to OHSA or other entities are an important part of the process of managing risk, however, on their own they do little to make the workplace safer. A cultural change is required in the way all stakeholders look at this grave responsibility of protecting workers from occupational risks.

Employers, together with employees and their union representatives, must first identify and assess the risks to health and safety in a particular workplace. Decisions must then be made on how to eliminate or minimise the risks.

The most recent risk management strategies promote the establishment of risk registers in workplaces where actual accidents as well as near misses are recorded so that similar instances can be prevented or managed better in future.

Most workplaces today have a risk committee that is composed mainly of workers’ representatives and senior managers representing the employers. These committees have various functions, including making decisions about procedures for monitoring the health and safety of workers or conditions at the workplace. They are also involved in defining health and safety training for all workers.

This is one way through which both employers and employees own the process of keeping the workplace safe.

Workplace health and safety strategies need to make another leap forward by including in their agenda the well-being of workers. It is a sad reality that mental health problems are increasing in many workplaces as a result of substance abuse, alcoholism, and the rapid change in lifestyles of some workers. These elements often lead to absenteeism, staff turnover, disability and low productivity.

Voluntary organisations that deal with mental health issues are also invaluable allies to employers and workers to ensure that our workplaces manage their risks effectively and comprehensively.

Smart employers and trade unionists invest more of their time and money to deal with these more recent aspects of workplace risks. They wisely shift from a health and safety culture based on fear of legal sanctions to one where investment in workers’ well-being is seen as giving a better return to the business.

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