Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Health and Safety in the Workplace

In 2008 the Ministry of Manpower issued Ministerial Decision no. 286/2008 introducing the Regulation of Occupational Safety and Health for Establishments Governed by the Labour Law. The Regulation provides for a comprehensive regulatory framework with the aim of improving health and safety standards in the workplace and protecting workers from various occupational hazards. The Regulation consists of 43 Articles covering a wide range of issues including: lighting, ventilation, heat stress, noise, uniforms, personal protection equipments, first aid and occupational diseases.

In general, the workplace must support good health by promoting healthy food and physical activity in the workplace, prohibiting smoking in the workplace, and enhancing psychological health and social integration of workers.

Workplace Safety Issues

According to Article 15, the employer must take all necessary actions to provide adequate protection for the workers' safety while at the workplace.

Work uniform and equipment for personal protection must comply with the specified standards of safety required depending on the actual hazards the workers are being exposed to. The employer should train the workers on the best ways of using, maintaining and storing such equipment. Prominent signs in the relevant languages need to be posted in all hazardous areas where entry is prohibited without using personal protection equipment.

Most importantly, workers must not work on construction sites or open uncovered areas of high temperature at noon, from 12:30pm up to 3:30pm throughout June, July and August; subject to certain exemptions for establishments providing essential public services.

In dealing with the various hazards in the workplace, the Regulation provides a list of measures which employers need to implement to minimise occupational accidents and the exposure to various risks and hazards including: fire, mechanical and electrical risks, chemical hazards, heavy duty machinery, workers` transport vehicles, in addition to risks of harmful rays, occupational cancer and asbestos.

The employer must provide sufficient, adequate, natural or artificial lighting, distributed in the workplace equally, free from direct or reflective rays, in addition to a system of emergency lighting in case of the failure of the normal lighting. The lighting system must clearly show emergency exits so that the workers can locate and use them. The position of fire alarms and fire extinguishers must be clearly indicated.

Polluted air shall be avoided by providing a natural or artificial ventilation system that provides fresh air in the workplace and use local ventilation where sources of pollutions exist. This system must effectively suck the polluted air out. The Regulation also specifies the minimum percentage of oxygen, speed of air, and the maximum degree of relative humidity in the workplace.

To protect the workers from exposure to noise, noisy operations that exceed the permissible levels must be isolated away from the workers, or sound insulated rooms should be used. Additionally, insulating, absorbing or reflective equipment should be installed on noisy machines.

Food and Water

The employer must also provide workers with sufficient potable water within easy reach and a reasonable number of water coolers proportionate to the number of workers. Bacterial analysis of the groundwater shall be carried out once every six months and chemical testing once every year in one of the government laboratories.

If food is provided for workers, employers should ensure that food safety measures are strictly observed. A separate place for cooking shall be provided and food serving places must be equipped with hand-washing facilities.

Women's Safety Issues

The Regulation also deals with specific health and safety needs related to women and people with special needs. Employers, for instance, must not expose women to materials or occupational practices which could adversely impact on the safe delivery of children or the health and safety of the foetus.