Poor safety, security standards compromise employee safety

The collapse of Kips Restaurant in Blantyre last year, was probably one of the most shocking workplace tragedies on the local scene. On May 17 2011, a building that housed the restaurant collapsed while undergoing renovations. Three people, including the restaurants managing director, lost their lives while 25 were injured.

Earlier, in January, an employee of a Blantyre-based company, Willy Nickson, was killed by a pile of glass in the course of duty. His fellow workers watched helplessly as a stack of glass was slowly cutting through his throat.

Nickson left a wife and five children, whom management of the company pledged to take care of for the next two years.

These two incidents of workers who were injured while working are but a drop in the ocean. While some are a result of accidents that happen even when companies follow labour laws and take precautionary measures to ensure their employees safety, others are a result of sheer employers’ negligence.

There have also been incidents where workers have been locked in factories overnight and burnt to death after a fire erupted as they had nowhere to escape.

As the world commemorates World Day for Safety and Health at Work tomorrow, various employees have spoken of their safety while on duty.

Richard Munthali a teacher at Kamuzu Academy in Kasungu says most employers do not take into consideration the safety of their employees.

“You can do a random survey on some industries and you are likely to find out that most of them have no safety and health officers, and they do not even have that in contracts,” Munthali says.

Justice Nyirongo a civil servant concurs by saying most workers whose work requires protective clothing do not have them.

“In town, you see labourers who carry cement in some shops, but they have no dust protective wear, yet they do this on a daily basis. Most organisations do not even provide health insurance to their employees in risky work environments. I think as a country, we have a lot to do on issues of health and safety,” says Nyirongo.

A Blantyre-based security and safety expert and director of Kabula Industrial Safety Specialists (Kiss), Chris Gondwe, says Malawi lacks safety standards to enforce equipment servicing if more companies are to save on compensations paid to victims.

He observes that most companies fail to contain fire accidents even if they have safety equipment and security gadgets because they are not serviced as required.

“We are now working with the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) in order to set standards in servicing the market. At present, Malawi depends on standards that were established in South Africa. Since 1997, we have not been allowed to have our own standards,” he observes.

Gondwe is optimistic that an association of companies and individuals who specialise in safety and security of people and property in companies will be formed to enable people to report to and ensure that quality services are provided.

“Local companies should ensure that their personnel are trained to avoid such incidents. Our assessment is that local companies struggle to have modern safety and security gadgets, unlike international companies,” he states.

Irked by security concerns in workplaces, chairperson of the Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (IRC), Rachel Sikwese, urges authorities, unions and employers to provide civic education on the Occupational, Safety, Health and Safety Act to contain accidents and disagreements. The Act clearly states that it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all his employees.

Among other things, the Act makes provisions for the regulation of the conditions of employment in workplaces as regards the safety, health and welfare of persons employed; for the inspection of certain plant and machinery, and the prevention and regulation of accidents occurring to persons employed or to go into the workplaces; and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing.

“We as IRC have no cases in our files pertaining to accidents in workplaces involving workers. It is the duty of the Ministry of Labour to sit and discuss compensation cases of those affected. What we have all along emphasised on is the fact that employees should also be sensitised,” she says.

The International Labour Organisation celebrates the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28 to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally. It is an awareness-raising campaign intended to focus international attention on emerging trends in the field of occupational safety and health and on the magnitude of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities worldwide.

April 28 is also a day on which the world’s trade union movement holds its International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers to honour the memory of victims of occupational accidents and diseases.

The 2012 World Day for Safety and Health at Work focuses on the promotion of occupational safety and health (OSH) in a green economy.

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