Workplace safety should include work from home

A typical sence of someone working on a computer at home.  - Photo taken from
A typical sence of someone working on a computer at home. - Photo taken from

While common law is not the same as laws that are legislated and passed through Parliament, many laws, including those that govern people in the Commonwealth of which we are part, have been legislated through and past colonialism and into independence, and can trace their origins to common law.

Many go further back than that, to Roman law, even to a jurisprudence in 1,795 BC, the Code of Hammurabi, which governed people in Babylon, Mesopotamia, many centuries before even the Romans made rules to govern behaviour between and amongst human beings, their possessions, their leaders and the boundaries within which they lived.

The Code of Hammurabi governed business relations, and not only contracts, but the price of food. It covered all aspects of life, including conditions of work, family life and criminal action.

Did it ever strike you as strange in the 21st century, listening to the news about the current wars, either the Ukraine-Russian conflict or the 34 or so other wars going on in the Middle East, northwest Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Syria, West Africa and so on, that the commentators speak in grave and disapproving tones about atrocities “contrary to the laws of war” taking place?

Did you ever ask: what on earth are the laws of war?

We know about the Geneva Convention, about not targeting or killing civilian non-combatants, not targeting hospitals or shelters for civilians, medical personnel and diplomats…

There are unwritten laws as well, forbidding rape, torture of children and many others. Big, strong hard-backed soldiers still do these things; but then people break other laws as well.

Asking “why?” in relation to human behaviour is the beginning of civilisation and the basis of philosophy.

Why do we, for example, pass laws that are impossible to keep?

What about the law we have in TT called the Occupational Safety, Health Act? I have a copy on my desk as I write. Why do we have a law to ensure the safety of people at work which specifically excludes work at home, even safety and sanitation measures, when accidents at home are so frequent and deeply damaging?

We read weekly about children dying from accidents at home. Most are never publicised, because if they were, there would be no space left for news about politics or the wars.

But it is generally recognised, right back to the Code of Hammurabi, that when someone (and I break in here to remind you that under the Companies Ordinance, industrial and corporate entities are legal “persons”) hires someone else to do work of any sort for them, they have what is called “a duty of care” to ensure those employed are safe in doing so.

A person has a right to be able to employ another person to help them conduct their personal or commercial objectives. No one can do it alone. But along with every right there is a responsibility. And one of those responsibilities which has been legislated in TT is to ensure that such a worker is safe.

If the safety and sanitation sections in part five of that act applied to residences, most of us would be lawbreakers, as it includes sections stipulating space for each individual of 11.5 cubic metres, adequate ventilation where there is no air-conditioning (increasingly important as our climate gets hotter owing to climate change), lighting and avoidance of either glare or too many shadows.

That does not even begin to lay out the regulations for the maintenance of operational standards for machinery and equipment, which at home would include your cooking, fridge, laundry equipment and appliances…even, probably, your toaster, if you use it regularly.

In any industrial establishment, it includes all of these things and more. I was just referring to sections 33 and 36. There are pages more.

It is fortunate that residential establishments are exempt. Whether working from home is covered in the employer's duties of care has not been clarified, but may have to be.

But for a country to progress through commerce, which is essential in today’s world, and supported even by the government of Mesopotamia back in Hammurabi's days, the philosophical acknowledgement that certain exemptions must inevitably apply has led to the wording “as far as is reasonably practicable” before each stipulation is inserted in the definition “industrial establishments” and other regulations governing commerce.

In TT’s legislation, for example: note that the safety regulation in Section 6(e) reads: “so far as is reasonably practicable as regards any place of work under the employers’ control, the maintenance of it in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it are safe and without such risks.”

But “industrial establishment,” in the “does not include” section, includes: “premises occupied for residential purposes only.”

You will note that the current move towards working from home is therefore not included, as it changes the nature of the establishment in which work is done.

Amendments to this act are obviously needed. It was passed in 2001.

And also included is another exemption from the definition of “industrial establishment,” which has not changed with the technology being used over the past 20 years, but I suspect may be about to become a focus of the Paria Commission of Enquiry: “(c) any offshore installation, and any other installation, whether floating or resting on the seabed or the subsoil thereof or resting on other land covered with water or the subsoil thereof.”


"Workplace safety should include work from home"

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