Cyprus is on the right track for the establishment of a positive health and safety culture at company level, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou said on Thursday, as the labour inspection department announced labour accidents had decreased in the last two years.

But Peo trade union presented another picture, saying the number of workplace accidents was high, even though they fell from 1,550in 2020 to 1,453 in 2021, which was partly attributed to the effect of lockdown. Eight people lost their lives in work accidents last year and three so far in 2022.

Speaking on Thursday at a ceremony of trade union Sek in memory of those who died in industrial accidents or from occupational diseases, the minister said: “it is the duty of all of us to ensure that all workers return from work to their homes and families in good health”.

Emilianidou explained that “prevention is better than cure” and that investing in occupational safety and health “is very important”.

The pandemic has demonstrated the need for effective implementation of occupational safety and health management systems, Emilianidou said, which will be able to absorb unforeseen threats and deal with new risks.

However, the effective implementation of occupational safety and health management systems requires the building of a positive safety and health culture according to the minister.

“This culture will allow the right to a safe and healthy working environment to be respected at all levels, where the government, employers and workers are actively involved in ensuring a safe and healthy working environment through a system of defined rights, responsibilities and obligations, and where the principle of prevention is given the highest priority,” she said.

Hence, building a positive safety and health culture at company level requires the commitment of management at all levels of the hierarchy.

This includes the universal participation of all employees, the implementation of work organisation procedures, the provision of training and information to employees, the monitoring of results for immediate corrective action and the cultivation of a safety and health culture as part of the wider company culture.

The minister added that at a state level, it is necessary to have appropriate legislation in place, to supervise its implementation, to promote prevention as well as to implement actions to foster a safety and health culture in the general population.

“I am confident that we are on the right track to design and implement actions to cultivate a positive culture on occupational safety and health issues,” Emilianidou said, explaining this will achieve “the common goal” of zeroing fatal accidents and to reduce other occupational accidents and diseases.

The importance of collective effort to ensure health and safety also noted Sek General Secretary, Andreas Matsas, who said, among other things, that the committees on safety can play an important role in daily prevention.

In Cyprus, some 1,453 workplace accidents were recorded in 2021 compared with 1,550 in the previous year, the Director of the Labour Inspection Department Anastasios Yiannakis said in his remarks after the event. He explained these accidents concerned those that caused absence from work of more than four days.

Yiannakis said the decrease may be due to the pandemic, as there were sectors of the economy which suspended operations or their operations were reduced, such as those in the tourism sector.

In relation to the implementation of measures during the coronavirus in workplaces, Yiannakis said 22,000 inspections were carried out in 2021 by the department, on top of another 4,000-5,000 in cooperation with other services.

At a global level, 2.2 million people lose their lives from work-related accidents and diseases every year, labour union Peo said in their statement to mark the International Day for Safety and Health at Work, citing data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

This figure shows a 10 per cent increase in recent years, the union said.

It added that every 15 seconds a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease, meaning that by the end of the day, “one million workers will have suffered a work-related accident and 5,500 workers will have died from a work-related accident or disease.”

According to the union, this means that work kills more people than wars.

For the Pancyprian federation of labour, the figures reflect the situation in the island as well.

“In Cyprus, unfortunately, the picture presented in recent years is disappointing with workplace accidents at an all-time high,” it added.

This is due to the lack of effective prevention measures, failure to inform and train workers on occupational safety and health issues and among other lapses, Peo said.

“Employers must take up their legal and ethical responsibilities to their employers to minimise occupational accidents and occupational diseases,” it added.

However, Peo added the labour ministry has a crucial role in the proper observance and implementation of labour legislation to reduce occupational accidents and occupational diseases, which should be highlighted.

The labour inspection department, they said, must be properly staffed.

PEO says that in recent years, with its heap of recommendations, it has tried to improve the negative situation in Health and Safety, “but unfortunately we have had no response from the competent authority”.

It also reiterated some of its recommendations to increase safety at work. These included compulsory education and training for new entrants, compulsory education and training for workers in high-risk industries, inclusion of more occupations in the surveillance of workers’ health, transparency in the investigation of workplace accidents and the establishment and proper functioning of safety committees.