The chilling calamities, disasters and other tragic happenings around the world capture deservedly global attention.
They in a way remind us all of our frailty, inhumanity to each other, our limitations, as well as the uncertainty of life and death itself. The 2003 Rwandan genocide in which about a million Tutsis and Hutus were brutally murdered, or the Asian tsunami of 2005 that killed about 300,000 people, or even the Haitian earthquake of 2010 that claimed about 200,000 lives, or the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Ukraine, that after about 29 years later, the aftermath of that disaster is still visible among its population, among others, all come to mind.
These tragedies and terrible incidences, expectedly, often make big headlines and attract global attention whenever they happen. However, there are some disasters around the world with far higher fatalities than say an earthquake or a plane crash, but with little or no global attention. These are the workplace-related accidents; they are largely unreported or even attracting any serious attention, yet they have a high fatality rate than some of the ones that captures global headline news.
According to the International Labour Organisation, ILO, every year, some 2million men and women lose their lives through accidents and diseases linked to their work place.
In addition, there are 270million occupational accidents and 160million occupational diseases each year, incurring US$ 2.8trillion in costs for lost working time and expenses for treatment, compensation and rehabilitation. Of the estimated 2.34million annual work-related deaths, approximately 2.02million are due to work-related diseases, representing a daily average of 5,500 deaths, meaning that every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease.
Despite improvements in occupational safety and health over the years, workers continue to suffer work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses. Though the Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA, makes it mandatory for employers to provide a workplace free from recognised hazards, the growing rate of work-related diseases across the globe is alarming.
Particularly worrisome is that most of the deaths and injuries take a heavy toll in developing countries, where a large part of the population is engaged in hazardous activities. It takes a heavier toll in terms of lives lost and disability than any other global pandemic like earthquakes, floods, or HIV/AIDS, Ebola, etc. But many fail to appreciate or even understand these everyday hazards, which the workers face at
work, like severed hands or arms, or contacting lung diseases from asbestos mines due to long term exposure.
Most emerging economies, especially fail to pay adequate attention to work place safety, nor are they concerned about workers working long hours, as their main pre-occupation is profit. So, when profit is put above the safety of workers, there is no telling the degree of risk to workers.
Sadly, the laws and regulations governing the safety of the workplace have been the subject of wanton violation in factories and industrial settings over the years.
This is so because of the unholy zeal to enhance profit margins at the peril of workers’ safety. Particularly worrisome is the ignorance of workers to know their rights under the law and the alternatives in the event of an untold accident. For instance, most workers are not aware that there is a law making it mandatory for factory owners to ensure safety of workers and the workplace, which is provided for by section 28 of the Factories Act. Even the Employer’s Compensation Act, 2011, that was signed into law is hardly used by victims of workplace accidents.
The ECA, for instance, which repeals the Workmen’s Compensation Act, WCA of 2004, is designed to provide an open and fair system of guaranteed and adequate compensation for employees or their dependents in the event of death, injury or disease. Besides, it is to provide for a safer working conditions for employees by ensuring that all relevant stakeholders contribute towards the prevention of workplace accidents and other occupational hazards.
Thus, for productivity to increase and for quality to improve and be sustained, workers’ safety must be a priority. There must be adequate health facilities to treat accidents or sicknesses when they occur, availability of recreational facilities, annual holidays to refresh workers, living wages and other measures that can sustain and help bond the workers to the employer and the business, thus reducing friction and conflict, meaning higher productivity, with the employer smiling all the way to the bank and the worker safer, happier and eager to produce more.
Though, the worker deserves his pay because he creates the wealth that makes society to grow and develop. But even much more, he deserves his health and life, because they are an integral part of his humanity; without him, society is poorer and indeed the ultimate loser. For this very reason, more than any other thing, the safety and wellbeing of the worker should therefore be the major concern and priority of every employer.