Oftentimes, calamities and other tragic happenings get global attention and deservedly so. In a way, they remind us all of our defencelessness, heartlessness to each other, limitations as well as the uncertainty of life and death itself. For instance, we recall with sadness the 2003 Rwandan genocide in which about a million Tutsi and Hutu were brutally murdered; the Asian tsunami of 2005 that killed about 300,000 people; the Haitian earthquake of 2010 that claimed about 200,000 lives; the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Ukraine, 29 years later, the aftermath of that disaster is still visible among its population, among many other disasters.
Expectedly, these tragedies made news headlines and attracted global attention when they occurred. However, there are some disasters around the world with far higher fatalities than say an earthquake or a plane crash, that get little or no global attention. These are the work place related accidents, they are largely unreported and do not attract any serious attention, yet they have a higher fatality rate than some disasters that capture global news headlines.
According to the International Labour Organisation, ILO, every year, some 2 million men and women lose their lives through accidents and diseases linked to their work place. In addition, there are 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases each year, incurring $ 2.8 trillion in costs for lost working time and expenses for treatment, compensation and rehabilitation. Of the estimated 2.34 million annual work-related deaths, approximately 2.02 million 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.
Particularly worrisome is that most of the deaths and injuries take a heavy toll on 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 catastrophe like earthquakes, floods, or HIV/AIDS, Ebola etc. But many fail to appreciate or even understand this everyday hazards, which workers face at work, like a severed hand or arm, or contracting lung diseases from asbestos mines due to long term exposure.
However, most emerging economies fail to pay adequate attention to work place safety rules, nor are they concerned about workers’ overall welfare, 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 their well being.
Unhappily, the laws and regulations governing the safety of the work place have been the subject of needless violation in the factories and industrial settings over the years. This is so because of the unholy zeal to enhance profit margin at the peril of the workers’ safety.
Worrisome also, is the ignorance of the workers of their rights under the law and the alternatives in an event of an untold accident. For example, most workers are not aware that there is a law making it mandatory for factory owners to ensure safety of workers and the work place, 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 work place 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 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 sickness 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 be more productive.


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