As per International Labour Organization (ILO) estimation, 2.3 million people die every year from work-related accidents and diseases globally. More than 160 million people suffer from occupational and work-related diseases, and there are 313 million non-fatal accidents per year. The suffering caused by such accidents and illnesses to workers and their families is incalculable. It is unfortunate to know that many of these workplace tragedies are preventable through the implementation of sound prevention, reporting and inspection practices.
What we need to understand is, a so-called safe workplace is not necessarily also a healthy workplace.
The key point is that issues of both health and safety must be addressed in every workplace. Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) is a cross-disciplinary area concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. The goal of all occupational safety and health programs is directed in fostering a safe work environment.
The concept of occupational safety and health of the workers is quite a new concept even to the oldest industries of Nepal and is in its initial stage. The notion of OSH in Nepal has not been able to take root and its principles and ideologies should be made known at all levels.
The major facade to installing the concept of OSH in Nepal lies in the inability of concerned stakeholders to grasp the utility and importance of occupational health services.
Major obstacles in enforcing effective OSH practices in Nepal from the nation’s perspective are least priority of the government, national strategy for OSH management, legal back up mechanism and focal point at government ministries.
The employer or the industries bearing obligation to provide safe working conditions by practicing OSH have an easy exit mechanism in absence of concrete legislation. Few industries have taken prudent measures by establishing OSH setups thereby decreasing vulnerability of hazards.
The reality has a different story to tell, with very few medical facilities and emergency medical backup the issues of OSH are largely overlooked. The labor forces are guided by their political affiliations, lack effective coordination and unity on OSH issues.
Absence of firm legal grounds, acts and policies have always produced mayhem, so is the case of OSH in Nepal. There is an immediate need for enacting OSH specific legal tools.
The task of maintaining a safe and healthy work environment is not an easy alley to trespass. All the stakeholders should be informed and educated on occupational grounds for an effective occupational response through their meaningful participation.
The government should develop evidence based legislation, policy, framework, and programs on occupational safety and health. The workers should be informed about their rights concerning their working conditions, potential hazards and risks associated with their work and workplace.
The employer should be made to understand that worker’s safety and health are their responsibilities and they should remain obliged to their duties. It is also necessary to make them understand that occupational health services is an investment, and the investment will likely result in motivation, job satisfaction, good ambiance and increased job responsibilities.
The state agencies also need to develop special national laws, framework, policy and programs for occupational safety and health, which must include actions for providing competent occupational health services for all people at work. The program should focus on developing appropriate legal provisions and systems for effective enforcement for maintaining optimum occupational health and safety at workplace.
In short, the solution is deeply rooted into the Government’s initiative to develop and implement sound policies, business leaders’ belief that safety is not an expense but a long-term investment and enough awareness of the OHS issues to work safely on employees’ part.
Plans and strategies always look good on papers but possess very little meaning unless they translate into actions and are able to produce measurable results in the field.