Feature Article of 2010-11-22

Occupational & Industrial Safety & Health in Ghana

Joe-Steve Annan (MSc. Quality Safety & Environment; BSc Chemical Engineering; International Member- American Industrial Hygienists Association) jsannan5@yahoo.com. 00233244182337. Introduction The rate of industrialization in Ghana is in ascendancy and this has led to larger percentage of the Ghanaian workforce being exposed to workplace physical, chemical, biological and psychological stressors, but has the nation got a system of anticipating, monitoring, evaluating, controlling and preventing such exposures to the workforce? Employers in Ghana are required by the Ghana Labour Act 2003, Act 651 to ensure their employees are not exposed to conditions that would lead them to work related injuries or illnesses. Employees are also required to exhibit their duty of care in ensuring that they work as per the employers’ standard operating procedures which must incorporate Safety and Health requirements. However, are the Ghanaian workers and the employers aware of their safety and health responsibilities and obligations? The existence of different types of industries, (such as Mining, Construction, Energy, Food Processing, Manufacturing, Agro, Transport and the current Oil and Gas) in Ghana has lead to the existence of a large Ghanaian workforce with many Similar Exposure Groups (SEGs), indicating varying modes, extents and frequencies of exposures to different Chemical, Physical, Ergonomic and Biological agents at different workplace. There is a Road Safety Commission but with little standards, guidelines and impact on the transport industry road user. The Nation has different agencies under different jurisdictions which monitor different industries for workplace and employee safety, however, there is no national body, policy nor process that govern Occupational Safety & Health management in Ghana. There is a Road Safety Commission but with little standards, guidelines and impact on the safety of the transport industry and the pedestrian. The Minerals Commission has the Mining Regulations 1970, which contains some guidelines in Occupational Safety and Health but just for the Mining Industry. There currently is a draft of the reviewed Mining and Minerals Regulations which is pending approval by the Ghanaian Parliament. Numerous injuries, illnesses, property damages and process losses take place at different workplaces but due to under reporting or misclassification due to lack or thorough standards, or unfamiliarity with the existing guidelines, people are not normally in the known of such events as well as their actual or potential consequences and effective corrective actions required. Given the wide range of potential and/or actual undesired events associated with the myriad of work groups in Ghana, there is the need to have a comprehensive provision for occupational safety and health standards and practice in the nation, with an unflinching national leadership, support and commitment. However, the situation as it stands suggests otherwise, hence this paper provides suggested approach in improving on the practice, management and monitoring of occupational safety and health in Ghana. Current Situation of Occupational / Industrial Safety & Health in Ghana. There are currently two major edicts that have provided guidance in the provision of occupational / industrial safety and health services, practice and management in Ghana. These include the Factories, Offices and Shops Act 1970, Act 328 and the Mining Regulations 1970 LI 665, but these have only driven the mining and the labor sectors and are therefore very limited in scope, given the multifaceted distribution of industrial operations that we have in Ghana. There is the Workmen’s Compensation Law 1987 (PNDC 187) which relates to compensation for personal injuries caused by accidents at work and hence, indirectly impacts on monitoring worker / workplace safety. The Radiation Protection Board of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission is also proactive in monitoring companies with radiation exposure hazards for compliance, however, due to limited resources, effectiveness of their activities is compromised. On a proactive side, the Ghana Chamber of Mines in collaboration with the Inspectorate Division of the Minerals Commission form a Technical Committee with representations from each mining company in the nation that reviews and recommends corrective actions for reported or identified unsafe acts, conditions or failures in the existing Health and Safety system of the mining industry. This good initiative is however impeded by availability of resources and hence enforcement is challenged. There are other statutes which indirectly impact on Occupational Safety and Health and these include the Environmental Protection Agency Act 490 1994, the Ghana Health Service and Teaching Hospital Act 526, 1999 and the National Road Safety Commission Act 567 1999. Though, Ghana is among the 183 member countries of ILO, which requires, as per the ILO convention number 155 1981, that member countries formulate, implement and periodically review a coherent policy on occupational safety and health and work environment, Ghana has not yet rectified this convention and the nation has no established authority dedicated to Occupational Safety and Health to guide and facilitate the implementation of the “Action at the National Level” as indicated in the R164 Occupational Safety and Health Recommendation, 1981. However, the Labour Act 2003, Act 651, Part XV, sections 118 to 120 apparently directs employers and employees in their roles and responsibilities in managing Occupational Health, Safety and Environment in the nation, but is not specific about whom to report accidents and occupational illnesses to. It is not clear or does not specify what to consider as Occupational Illness. It does not specify who to be responsible for ensuring the industries in Ghana implement corrective actions as per recommendations. Currently, accidents that occur in factories are expected to be reported to the Department of Factory Inspectorate but Companies hardly report such events to the inspectorate for investigation and correction. When these accidents get reported, it takes a long time before corrective or preventive actions get implemented, hence, there is a little or no positive effect of the action of the DFI on the factories. The nation has seen some positive “Safety and Health practice infection” among some of our Ghanaian companies due to the influx of some multinational companies into the country, given their corporate expectations with specific requirements in Occupational Safety and Health practices. This stems from their requirements for the contractors, and subcontractors, some of whom are Ghanaian, to follow their Health and Safety standards. Currently, the Oil and Gas sector has introduced their side of approach to managing health and safety. This is purely based on risks and it definitely is an improvement on what is existing. In as much as this is a good effort and helps the Ghanaian to know there is more to Occupational Safety and Health than we have specified in our legal framework, it tends to confuse the Ghanaian the more with regard to which standard to follow in the nation, and what is required to make employees and employers accountable. In the academia, Occupational Health is not an option for specialization in a typical Ghanaian medical school. Safety engineering has not found its way into any of our Engineering curricula in Ghana yet. A potential intervention is the proposed Safety and Environmental Engineering program which is being expected to commence at the University of Mines & Technology, but this is not approved yet. All other Safety & Health training programs are run either by international agencies or some few Ghanaian organizations but non of these match up to even a first degree, and the big question is, to what Ghanaian standards are these courses being run? When do we say a provision made by a company meets requirement and what requirement would we be measuring against or what do we call Ghanaian standard? When do we say a company has exhibited due diligence in preventing harm to a worker, and under what circumstance a worker has been or not been negligent regarding an undesired event? Suggested Approach to Occupational Safety & Health Management in Ghana. National Policy - The nation has to adopt or develop a broad base Occupational Safety and Health policy that is in line with the ILO convention 155 as a minimum. This must seek to address Safety and Health issues regarding all projects and operations from design stage, through procurement, construction, operation and decommissioning. The aim of this must seek to first protect the worker from injuries and work related ill-health, ensure standards are put in place to prevent losses property damages due to accidents, and must show the Ghana Government’s commitment. - Achieving this means all the scattered generic Occupational Safety and Health requirements under the different agencies of the Ghana Government such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Factory Inspectorate, Inspectorate Division of The Ghana Minerals Commission and the Ghana Labor Commission with confusing responsibilities must be brought under a common umbrella body. Such a body must be empowered and resourced adequately to enable them organize how the policy would be implemented nationwide and by who. - This policy must be authenticated by the Ghana Government and form part of the nation’s legal document. Organization - Consultation effectiveness with relevant organizations will positively impact the successful implementation of the “Expected Ghana National Occupational Safety and Health Policy”. The relevant organizations may include but not limited to the Ghana Minerals Commission, Ghana Chamber of Mines, Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, The Association of Ghana Industries, The Universities, The Department of Factory Inspectorate, The Ghana Institute of Engineers, The Ghana Medical Association, and The Ghana Bar Association, Ghana Environmental Protection Agency. - Communication of outcomes of consultations and requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health policy is salient in achieving a good control of the system. This can be done through the National Media Commission and the associated private and public media operatives. - Competency of the human resource who would be championing the implementation and monitoring of the Occupational Safety and Health policy must be built up. This may require introducing relevant courses like Safety Engineering in our Universities and Polytechnics as well as Occupational Health in our Medical Schools. These training institution would need to be adequately resourced and accredited to deliver quality education in Occupational Safety and Health for Ghanaians to be able to manage Occupational Safety and Health issues in the nation. - Collaboration between the industry, the public and the established body responsible for the implementation, management and monitoring of the policy is paramount. - Control of the practices with guidelines either adopted or developed by the nation’s Occupational Safety and Health body needs specific emphasis. Specific roles and accountabilities with timelines need to be developed for planning and implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health policy actions with clear reporting lines. This must not exclude penalties for intentional non-conformances and negligence. Planning and Implementation Actions that need to be made to ensure the achievement of the Ghana national Occupational Safety and Health policy aim and objectives would need to be clearly spelt out with specific timelines, roles and responsibilities. Targets must be set by the nation, for the various industries and exceeding them should merit controls set by the Government. To guide the industries achieve those targets, there has to be guidelines in areas like emergency preparedness, hazardous material management, risk assessments, accident reporting and investigation, workplace inspections, workplace exposures monitoring, assessment and control, purchasing and supply chain policies, permit to work systems, etc. There is the need also to ensure the governing organization is empowered and resourced to proceed with continual research into workplace exposures, levels that should not be exceeded, safe ways of completing the tasks, and improvement of controls when undesired events, conditions or systems are encountered. These must tie into the roles and responsibilities as indicated under the organization and it has to be specific. Evaluation After the nation has adequately implemented the above recommendations or their appropriate alternatives, there has to be effective monitoring of the implementation of the process as per the specified standards, compliance by the industry, identification of opportunities for improvement, and recommendation of effective and applicable corrective or improvement actions. Action for Improvement Actions identified as necessary to be implemented in order to improve upon the identified gaps and inadequacies must be implemented as required. The implementation stage also requires monitoring by the governing body. The body need to be resourced with tools, equipment and skilled labour to ensure the implementation is done to required standard. Auditing At all the implantation stages of the National Occupational Safety and Health Policy, there has to be effective periodic monitoring. This requires auditing all the stages of the national occupational safety and health management system periodically to ensure continuous improvement. Conclusion. The rate of industrialization in Ghana is increasing and this has led to lager percentage of the workforce being exposed to workplace hazards. The nation has some fragments of Occupational Safety and Health legal requirements under the jurisdiction of different agencies yet has no national policy and body responsible for monitoring and ensuring that requirements and guidelines in occupational safety and health are implemented. This must be reflected in our academic curricula and legal requirements. An organization need to be set up with specific roles and responsibilities focus all the little scattered efforts by the different agencies, improve upon the approach and implement them uniformly across the nation. The nation will definitely derive moral, economic and legal benefits from this process, and most importantly, the Ghanaian worker will work safely in a safe premise with safe tools and appliances, and go back home safely.Source: Annan, Joe-Steve
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