The New Today

Commentary

Safety and health in the workplace: The Construction Industry

World Day for Safety and Health at Work is an international campaign that promotes safe, healthy, and decent work environment globally.

The commemoration for World Day for Safety and Health at Work began in 2003 by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and continue to be celebrated every year on April 28 by many countries across the globe.

The ILO is a United Nations agency whose mandate is to improve labour conditions and living standards throughout the world by promoting social justice, human and labour rights. ILO member Grenada like many other ILO member states was also proud to celebrate World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

This year, in recognition of World Day for Safety and Health at Work, a team from the Ministry of Labor visited the Grenada Marine to assess their safety standards and procedures during routine work functions. Minister of Labour, Honourable Peter David, highlighted the responsibilities of this Ministry in raising awareness and promoting a safety culture throughout the nation’s workforce. He appealed to employers and employees to comply with health and safety guidelines so that productivity, safety, and health is not compromised.

Emphasizing a safety culture in occupational settings help protect workers’ health and assist in minimizing and preventing occupational injuries and diseases. It also lessens the social, financial, and psychological implications associated with unsafe work practices for individuals, communities, and an entire population. Recent studies revealed that Latin America and the Caribbean have one of the highest fatality rates due to occupational hazards.

A country’s occupational health and safety is a determinant of its Gross Domestic Product which ultimately affects its financial capacity. Occupational injuries and diseases negatively influence motivation of workers, levels of productivity and lead to increased absenteeism.

High prevalence of occupational injuries and diseases are taxing on economies due to its negative consequences on population health and well-being.

Grenada depends heavily on contributions from private education institutions, the tourism and construction industry. Among these, the construction industry is one of the industries where safety and health practices are often overlooked.   This industry is of particular interest because it is notorious for having different occupational safety and health hazards which include physical, chemical, psychological, ergonomic, and biological.

Observations of select residential and commercial construction sites in the Parish of St. George showed that many of their construction workers are at high risk for injuries and occupational diseases due to their lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

A PPE is a clothing or equipment used by workers to reduce exposure to risks that might result in serious occupational injuries and illnesses. Inappropriate footwear and clothing were prominent as some workers were seen wearing flip flops, vest, knee-length pants, and open-toed shoes while working with cement, and in areas where spills, splashes, and injuries are highly likely.

Lack of protective eyewear and face shield when working in dusty areas were also popular. Very few workers wore gloves in spite of possible hand injury and contamination. Apart from using PPE, unsatisfactory engineering and administrative controls were observed.

Poorly structured scaffolds, inadequate hazard communication, non-compliance of safety work practices, poor waste disposal and inadequate sanitary facilities exemplifies poor engineering and administrative control. These unsafe work practices are indicative of the need to address occupational safety and health concerns in Grenada.

Like many other countries in the world, Grenada faces several challenges in establishing and enforcing legislation that governs occupational safety and health. These challenges include the development of occupational safety and health policies, enforcement of workplace safety and health laws, monitoring and evaluation of compliance and holding employees and employers accountable for non-compliance.

A good place to start is to establish health and safety best practices in the workforce and educate workers on the importance of compliance to economic growth and sustainable development through education and training. Before we can properly manage occupational health and safety deficiencies, we must empower individuals with the knowledge and skills to influence change.

Proactive measures are also necessary to increase the importance of occupational safety and health to develop awareness, and reduce the occurrence of occupational injuries, diseases, and death. A recent report by ILO revealed that an estimated 2.3 million workers around the world succumb to work-related accidents or diseases every year. This corresponds to over 6000 deaths every day.

Although, the number of occupational injuries, diseases and death are significantly lesser for Grenada, a complacent attitude is highly discouraged. Under-reporting of occupational injuries and diseases along with inadequate research may paint an unrealistically low figure for construction workers in Grenada.

Though some benefit claims have been made to the National Insurance Scheme, little is known of the extent to which construction workers’ exposure to hazardous or unsafe working conditions is linked to occupational diseases such as cancer, heart disease and other health issues.Hence, identifying potential hazards in the workplace is a crucial factor in improving workplace safety and health practices. Thereby promoting population health and well-being, improved productivity which fosters economic growth.

Enforcing occupational safety and health policies are necessary in addressing the issue of occupational safety and health. Prompt actions are need.

Complacency is not an option. Safety and health at work is everyone’s business.

N. Edwards
SGU MPH Candidate