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Our View: After more deaths, workplace safety must be addressed

Workers without helmets

The two fatal work accidents in the space of 24 hours this week should sound the alarm to everyone – unions, employers’ organisations, and the authorities. These accidents took the number of work-related deaths to 16 this year, double those recorded in 2018, which were high compared to previous years. This year could be dismissed as just a one-off, but it would be a mistake because there has been an upward trend in the last couple of years which needs to be addressed.

The unions wasted little time blaming employers, whose “criminal negligence and irresponsibility were causing the deaths of their workers.” They were “putting profit above life,” said one union, attributing the lack of work safety to cost-cutting by employers. Meanwhile, an official at the ministry’s labour inspection service said one of the accidents could have been avoided if the necessary safety measures were taken.

Unions also put some blame on the ministry’s labour inspection service which had not done enough to make workplaces safer, but they also conceded that this was because it was understaffed. There were not enough officials to carry out inspections and ensure that employers were complying with safety regulations, it was added. In short, the unions had ruled that employers and the state authorities were to blame for the increase in workplace deaths.

Broadly speaking, this is correct, but do unions not also have some responsibility for poor safety standards at certain workplaces? When union bosses are negotiating agreements with employers, how many raise the issue of workers’ safety and insist on specific work and safety procedures are adhered to? This only seems to be the case in the public sector, where safety rules are an excuse for overstaffing.

Rather than engaging in the blame game with each other, the parties – unions, employers’ groups and the labour ministry – should sit together and decide how to make workplaces safer. First of all, they should cultivate the ‘work-safety’ mentality which has never existed. How many workers wear helmets on the construction site, for instance? These may be available but workers cannot be bothered to wear them, just like motorcyclists who never wear a crash helmet. There is a general disregard for safety, which is endemic.

Attitudes must change – a union proposal, making safety training obligatory for newly hired staff is a good idea as it will eventually instill a safety culture – inspections must be stepped up and heavier fines imposed on employers that do not comply with regulations. Everyone’s objective should be making the workplace safe for all.

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