Work Safety Standards – Because saving even a single life is worth it

The death of 5 young men on 2nd March 2008, while conducting a borehole operation inside a well in Male’s Fish Market, have raised many questions regarding the workplace safety standards currently existing in the Maldives. It has also raised question as to who should take the responsibility for the lack of safety measures observed by these 5 young people while working inside the well. It is noteworthy that this is not the first time we have experienced deaths and severe injuries resulting from total disregard of workplace safety. It is then appropriate to ask why employees, employers and the state have shown a blind eye to this issue for such a long period of time. It is my belief that the responsibility does not lie with one single party; the responsibility has to be shared by employees, employers and the state.

 

The state in any country bears the burden of legislating and implementing laws to serve and protect its citizens. Legislating Rules and Regulations on workplace safety standards also falls on the government’s shoulder in making work sites safe for the people who work in them and also the general public from those work sites. It is also the government’s responsibility to monitor the workplaces to ensure the state of the workplaces are with the workplace safety standards, and penalise those who fail to adhere to it.

 

Poor workplace safety Standards and poor monitoring of the standards is equal to inviting tragedy with open arms. The Bopal tragedy in India serves the best example of this. The state of Madhya Pradesh was aware of the poor workplace safety observed in Bopal plant but decided to ignore the issue on the ground that it provided much needed employment and income for the locals. Then, on the night of 3 December 1984 tragedy struck, when a reaction in one of the storage tanks resulted in leaking more than 40 tones of Methyl Isocynate (MIC) gas into the air killing 3800 people instantly and more than 30000 people to date. Should the Maldives wait on for proper workplace safety standards till we experience a similar tragedy? Obviously no, if a Workplace Safety Standard means saving a single life it is definitely worth it. Thus, it is time for the government to introduce tighter Workplace Safety Standards and develop a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the standards are well observed within worksites and no more lives are lost to poor safety conditions.

 

Employers should also shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that workplace safety standards are observed. Any deaths or injuries resulting from their failure to adhere to workplace safety standards largely fall on them, even if no such standards exist. Health and Safety standards should become an integral part of the overall corporate Strategy. Failure to incorporate means potential lawsuits against the organisation and huge medical bills for the organisation. Thus, it is in the long term best interest of employers that they have their own workplace safety standards. They should also provide proper equipments to employees to allow them to work safely in potentially hazardous workplaces.

Finally, employees should also take some of the responsibility for workplace injuries and deaths. In many instances in the Maldives, employees can often seen working without wearing proper gear even if they had been provided by the organisation. Moreover, employees have the right to demand for proper gear and even refuse to work if they are not provided the proper gear and equipment to work in hazardous worksites.

The deaths of 5 young people, though sad it was, serves a good lesson for the government, employers and employees alike that workplace safety issues cannot and should not be over looked. The government bears the responsibility of legislating the laws, and craft proper work safety standards. Employers must abide by these safety regulations and incorporate work safety as integral part of their corporate HR strategy. Finally employees also need to take workplace safety issues more seriously and use proper gear and equipment while working in hazardous environments and demand or refuse to work if not provided.

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March 2, 2008

Welcome to MBlog

cheers,

Hamdun