Times of Malta ‒ Health and safety at workplace

Most workers face health and safety risks whether they are working in an office, a printing press or a quarry. While more importance is today being given to psychological health and safety issues in the workplace, many employees still risk losing their lives or being permanently physically injured because of occupational accidents.

The Occupational Health and Safety Authority annual report has confirmed what many have feared for a long time: health and safety management is still lax in many workplaces putting the lives of workers at risk unnecessarily.

The details in the report are worrying indeed. For example, only half the quarries in this country have conducted an adequate risk assessment of the dangers to workers despite being legally obliged to do so. No documented evidence has been forwarded to the health and safety watchdog that the 16 quarries that were inspected had, in fact, provided the necessary training for workers in 2016.

Safety awareness in printing presses does not seem to be much sharper either. The report reveals that safety guards, emergency stops and electrical circuit breakers had only been installed in six out of 50 presses inspected.

The responsibility of ensuring that workers are protected from avoidable risks is shared by employers and employees. In small businesses, workers are rarely unionised and, therefore, trade unions can do little to put pressure on employers and workers themselves to give health and safety processes the importance they deserve.

Some employers do not conduct health and safety programmes for their staff because they may consider this as an expensive exercise that hits their bottom line. Nothing could be further from the truth. Effective health and safety programmes educate workers on the benefits of practising proper workplace behaviour.

Some employers conduct ‘safety pays’ programmes that helps them determine the cost workplace injuries and illness have on a company’s profit margins. When employers understand the impact that injuries have on their profits, they are more inclined to implement measures that keep their workers healthy and safe.

While vigilance by the OHSA will always be necessary to ensure that the laws are enforced, it is only by integrating health and safety processes in the way a business operates that avoidable accidents can be reduced. While workers in large business can resort to their trade union’s support if/when employers fail to implement proper health and safety processes, those in small businesses may have a disadvantage.

An unsafe work environment could convince workers their employer does not appreciate them, which, in turn, risks making them feel less loyal to the company. More skilled workers will likely seek alternative employment with companies that take better care of their workers.

No employees or their families should have to suffer because of avoidable risks in their workplace. Low-paid workers with low skills are possibly the most at risk of being injured in a workplace.

If employers fail to realise the importance of integrating health and safety processes in their operations, then the OHSA – which needs to be constantly well-equipped – should continue to prosecute those employers who fail to abide by their legal obligations.

Employers who expose their workers to avoidable risks are risking their own financial viability because, sooner or later, a major accident could result in legal litigation that might ruin a business, not to mention the reputation.

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