Dealing with health and safety at work

An employee has a temperature check done as part of covid19 public health guidelines in the workplace. -
An employee has a temperature check done as part of covid19 public health guidelines in the workplace. -

HEALTH AND safety practices have always been vital, but the covid19 pandemic dramatically brought their crucial place within the workplace to the fore.

But just because many restrictions have been eased and workers have been asked to return to the physical office does not mean measures introduced over the last two years should be rolled back.

In fact, health and safety systems are now as crucial as ever. As the World Day for Safety and Health at Work is today observed, we join in the global calls for the maintenance of robust occupational safety and health systems, as well as continued dialogue between governments, employers, workers, public health actors and stakeholders at the national and enterprise level.

In this country, particular attention needs to be paid to the public health and safety regime.

The operations of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) have been brought under renewed scrutiny in light of a spate of incidents, not limited to the Paria Fuel Trading tragedy.

A commission of enquiry has been mandated to probe that incident. Its terms of reference suggest this review may in theory touch upon OSHA’s role within the general policies, procedures and practices in operation across companies in the petroleum sector and may also highlight any aspects of the agency's operations which played a role in the surrounding circumstances.

But there is a need for a thorough review of OSHA outside the framework of one specific event.

Other incidents, such as the explosion at NiQuan Energy’s gas-to-liquids plant on what was formerly the Petrotrin Pointe-a-Pierre refinery a year ago raise questions about standards and the efficiency of regulatory oversight.

Many of these serious incidents result in promises of swift probes but then there is the appearance of little follow-up in terms of actionable outcomes. That alone is a sign that there is room for improvement in our regulatory framework, even before we get to the nitty-gritty of these cases.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers of all stripes have a duty to ensure the safety and welfare at work of employees, as well as people not in their employment who may be affected by business operations.

The Ministry of Labour, having speedily promulgated a covid19 health and safety policy in 2020, should maintain the momentum. It should keep this policy under review and widen the remit of its oversight.

Urgent attention should also be paid to the human resource issues facing OSHA, whose chief inspector is not guaranteed tenure due to a history of short-term contractual arrangements. There are also questions relating to available expertise and resources, especially when it comes to the regulation of companies prone to litigation.

The fate of Government’s vaccination policy with regard to state workers has arguably shown how, sometimes, health considerations are overridden by political considerations.

But we should be doing the opposite: employers, politicians and private stakeholders must invest more in setting and upholding safety standards for the good of all.


"Dealing with health and safety at work"

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