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Occupational Safety and Health – Key To Success in Workplaces

Image of Safety House

Globally, 160 persons in workplaces sustain injuries every 15 seconds and 1 person dies every 15 seconds as a result of an occupational accident or disease. This translates to over one million deaths annually. There is therefore need for promotion of a safe and healthy workplace by implementation of programmes for prevention of accidents, diseases, ill-health and damage to property. By Justus B. Nyakego.

In Kenya, the Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health Services (DOSHS) is mandated by Law to ensure safety and health at workplaces in the country. The legal framework for the Occupational Safety and Health is enshrined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2007. The Work Injury Benefits Act, 2007 is a law that provides for compensation of workers if injured at work.

The Directorate is charged with the responsibility of conducting occupational medical examinations in workplaces, medical surveillance of workplaces, disability assessment, work injury and illness evaluation, first aid training, research on occupation health as well as knowledge sharing in occupational health.

All the workers are expected to undergo pre-employment and exit medical examinations. All employees exposed to classified hazards must undergo prescribed regular medical examinations. The activities of occupational health services include Medical Surveillance, Work Injury and Illness Evaluation, Occupational Health Nursing and Occupational Health Laboratory work. The Directorate also assesses workers for return to work fitness after major illness, retirement on medical grounds assessments, deployment and redeployment assessments of workers facing difficulties where they are currently placed due to physical or other constraints.

       Some medical examination/Surveillance equipment in DOSHS

There are hazards in practically all workplaces. What varies is their nature and degree of exposure. Occupational hygiene, a term commonly used in the field of occupational health and safety, aims at improving the quality of working life through the control of hazards at the place of work. Identification and assessment of workplace hazards is part of hygiene work. Occupational Hygiene brings to the fore existence of hazards at the workplace. Among hazards that are assessed at workplaces include, noise, vibrations, radiation, dust, chemical fumes, extreme temperatures and pressure just to mention but a few. At DOSHS, Occupational Hygiene works hand in hand with occupational health. All workplaces with classified hazards must do assessment of the hazards every year.

       Some medical examination/Surveillance equipment in DOSHS

Many a times, we have used passenger lifts, Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders, generators of steam or steam boilers, oxy-acetylene gas cylinders, and compressors while oblivious about the guarantee of the equipment’s safety.

All lifting equipment like tower cranes, pressurized vessels like boilers and cold rooms have to undergo inspection and testing regularly for their safe use to be guaranteed. This is ensured by DOSHS.

A tower crane at a construction site must inspected regularly 

The work injury benefits Act No. 13 of 2007 became operational on 2nd June 2008. This is an Act of Parliament which makes it mandatory for all employers to compensate their employees who suffer permanent or temporary disablement when they are injured while in the course of employment. The provisions of this Act are also applicable to all civil servants and police service. The Act is administered by the Directorate of occupational safety and health services (DOSHS).

Upon occurrence of an accident at work, a notice is sent to DOSHS where a demand is raised depending on the degree of incapacity caused by the injury. The employer must settle the claim in ninety days from the date of receipt of the claim.

The provisions of this Act are also applied in compensation of injuries arising out of occupational diseases. Occupational diseases are unique, irreversible disorders that are contracted by workers due to exposure to workplace hazards over a long period of time. Occupational diseases occur due to failure to use or improper use of personal protective equipment. Occupational hazards (hazards associated with work) that may be present in workplaces include chemical hazards, biological hazards, physical hazards and inappropriate working postures.

Chemical hazards are associated with various cancers which manifest in form of uncontrolled growth of cells, leading to cancerous tumours in target organs of the body such as kidneys, the liver and lungs.

Biological hazards are occasioned by living organisms some of which are capable of self-replication and can cause harmful effects in the body. These include bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Physical hazards in the workplace include high levels of noise which cause permanent disorders known as noise induced hearing loss. Other physical hazards include vibration and ionizing radiation. Inappropriate working postures cause musculoskeletal disorders. Occupational diseases can manifest for many years after an employee has retired from active employment. For an occupational disease to be compensated, it must be established that the disease arose from exposure to hazards at the workplace and not anywhere else.

An injury can affect an employee and his or her family and their quality of life; for the employer the loss is usually through loss of man-hours, reduced production, reduced quality of goods and services, damage to property, losses occasioned by legal action and payment of compensation to the injured. DOSHS has developed an integrated workplace safety and health program, achieved through continuous audits, inspections research, regulations and training. The services and programs are open and available for employers and employees in the country.

THE DIRECTORATE OF OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH SERVICES (DOSHS) KENYA AND COVID – 19

Many economies have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic which has greatly affected workers who drive these economies. Kenya is one of those economies whose workforce was adversely affected by the pandemic. The Directorate of Occupational safety and Health Services joined hands with other Government Agencies in combating the pandemic right from the onset of COVID – 19. Great emphasis on Occupational Safety and Health at work places and safety of those working from home was laid by DOSHS. The Directorate took the lead in the:

  1. Development and circulation of an advisory on Occupational Safety and Health measures for healthcare workers and other frontline workers exposed to covid-19 in Kenya.
  2. Development and circulation of an Occupational Safety and Health Post COVID-19 Return to Work Advisory.
  3. Creation of Toll-Free Telephone Number: 0800211168 and email address: complaints@labour.go.ke at State Department for Labour Covid-19 Rapid Response for lodgment of complaints and matters of Covid-urgency at workplaces.
  4. Development and dissemination of an Occupational Safety and Health Advisory for Employees with Disabilities on Covid-19
  5. Development and dissemination of Occupational Safety and Health Advisory on Corona-virus for the consumption of our workforce in the country.
  6. Development of material on how to protect oneself from Corona-virus for use by our working population in Kenya.

These milestones were to address any emerging issues, directly related to Covid- 19 and were as a result of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and the Social Partners, Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) and the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU). The aim of this MOU was also to promote social dialogue including negotiations on working hours and compensation of workers in the Covid-19 pandemic period and it operates on the spirit of protecting both the enterprises and workers from the adverse effects of Covid-19. DOSHS was a champion in the partnership.

Today we cautiously take a sigh of relief, the pandemic having toned down, all because of efforts of key players in the partnership.

The author is the Director of Communication and Compliance at the Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services at the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.

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