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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 33
Augsut 18, 2007

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Occupational health service: Global need for workers

Bikash Kumar Basak

The international programme for the improvement of working conditions and environment was launched by the ILO in 1976 (Improving Working Conditions and Environment: An International Programme (PLACT) 1984; 71st Session of the International Labour Conference 1985). The ILO Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), with its accompanying recommendation (No.164), and the ILO Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No.161) and its accompanying recommendation No.171, augmented the impact of the ILO in the development of the occupational safety and health.

The necessity of formulating a precise and integrated national policy on occupational safety and health for the first time spread over the whole world after the adoption of the ILO Convention (No.155) concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the Working Environment, in 1981. According to Article 4 (1) of the Convention (C-155)-

“Each Member shall, in the light of national condition and practice, and in consultation with the most representative organisations of employers and workers, formulate, implement and periodically review coherent national policy on occupational safety, occupational health and the working environment.”

In addition, the aim of having such a national policy has been precisely described in Article 4 (2) of the convention; whereas the prevention of accident and injury to health and minimisation of the causes of hazards happening in the working environment have been prioritised. This has a distinct link with the ordinary course of work. Furthermore, in 1985 ILO adopted the Convention on Occupational Health Services (C-161) for the establishment and maintenance of a safe and healthy working environment which will definitely facilitate optimal health of the workers in relation to health, both physical and mental, and at the same time, for the adaptation of work to the capabilities of workers in consideration of their state of physical and mental health. (Article of 1(a) of the Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985)

The model for occupational health services proposed by the ILO Occupational Health Services Convention (C-161) and Recommendation (No. 171) adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1985 enjoy the support of a large consensus at the international level. All countries should consider this model as objectives towards which progress should be made, taking into account, local differences and the availability of specialised personnel and financial resources.

The national policy for a particular country should be adopted to develop progressively occupational health services for all workers, considering the specific risks of the undertakings and such policy should be formulated, implemented and every so often reviewed in the light of national condition and practice in consultation with the very representative organisations of both employers and workers as well as necessary plans should be set up indicating the steps which will be taken at the time when the said health services cannot be immediately settled for all undertakings.( Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, Volume-1, Page 16.19)

Each member shall ensure occupational health services for the workers including those in the public sector and the members of production cooperatives in all branches of economic activity and all undertakings and if such services cannot be established immediately for all undertakings, then each member concerned shall draw up plans for the establishment of such services in consultation with the most representative organisations of employers and workers, where they exist (Article 3 of the Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985).

More recent laws of the world reflecting international guidelines such as those contained in the ILO Convention of Occupational Health Services (No.161) consider the occupational health services as an integrated, comprehensive, multidisciplinary team containing all the elements needed for the improvement of health at work, improvement of working environment, promotion of workers' health, and the overall development of the structural and managerial aspects of the workplace needed for health and safety.

There are two main types of legislation regulating occupational health services; such as

1) One implies the occupational health services as an integrated multidisciplinary service infrastructure and stipulates the objectives, activities, obligations and rights of the different partners, the condition of operations as well as the qualification of its personnel.

2) The other type of legislation is found in most industrialised countries and is more fragmented. Instead of a single act stipulating the occupational health service as an entity, it involves a number of laws that simply oblige employers to carry out certain activities. In many developing countries, this legislation is applicable only to main industrial sectors, while large numbers of other sectors as well as agriculture, small-scale-enterprises and the informal sector remain uncovered. (Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, Volume-1, Page 16.3)

OSH in the Asia and SEAR countries
The legislation on existing policy and procedures were assessed by the following criteria: (a) the presence of legal provision or policy that comprehensively addressed occupational health; (b) surveillance mechanism for mandatory reporting of occupational morbidity and mortality, and (c) the role played by the trade unions in implementing occupational health.

The legislation on occupational health, consisting of laws and acts, evolved over a period of time solely depending on the needs of the existing economic sectors and the notion of the occupational risks at the time. As a result, the parliamentary acts of a particular state primarily focus on the welfare and the benefits. As an attachment, theses include provisions on occupational health and safeties of workers mainly in the manufacturing sector and obviously absent in the agriculture sector and as a result these suppose to be fragmented and overlapping and redundant also in its functions. As for example, in Bhutan and Maldives, the legislation is still in the formulation process and there is no comprehensive legislation for occupational health and safety in the states.

Hence, it is the need of time to formulate a more progressive and protective legislation covering all economic sectors of a country and in order to overcome the fragmentary nature of the existing policies, consultation with stakeholders should be held for ensuring inter-sectoral coordination. Furthermore, the disparity of the agriculture sector should be addressed during the formulation of a comprehensive policy.

Most of the countries, like India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have a decentralised system for the delivery of occupational health safety and practices at the various administrative levels of the country while in Thailand, both the private and public hospitals are involved in delivery of occupational health and safety and whereas, in Bhutan and Maldives it needs to be improved to a large extent.

When occupational health is included in the national action plan of a country, funds are automatically provided either by the national government or supplemented from WHO and different donor agencies. In some countries like India and Thailand, the International Labour Office is also involved in some activities which will definitely promote occupational safety and health.

China: The Labour Law of the People's Republic of China, Chapter VI, specifically addresses OHS issues. The Legislation is vague and puts the primary onus for health and safety on employees to take positive action against the employer by either refusing to work or to criticize, report or file charges against any acts endangering the safety of their life and health. The responsibility of supervision and inspection is with the labour administrative departments of people's governments or the trade unions.

Japan: The national government, by the Ministry of Labour, has full jurisdiction over the administration of Occupational Health and within the ministry of labour , occupational health is administered directly by the industrial health and safety department while the Ministry has several hundred peripheral regional offices which are administered directly by one central office and the OHS Legislation stipulates among other things, the minimum standards for measures to be taken by employers, as well as outlining the level of supervision and guidance that should be given by labour standards inspectors. In order to continually improve achievements, the government has called upon voluntary activities by management and labour at their respective workplaces.

India: There is no comprehensive occupational health and safety legislation in India and the three main acts are: the Factories Act, 1948, the Mines Act, 1952 and the Dock Workers Safety, Health and Welfare Act, 1986. The present Factories Act in India, even today, covers workers only in the registered factories and thus a large number of blue as well as white collar workers do not qualify for occupational health and safety benefits under any law. Recently in 2006 (revised up to March) India has drafted its first national OSH policy where the fundamental purpose of the policy is not only to eliminate the incidence of work related injuries, diseases, fatalities, disaster and loss of national assets and ensuring achievement of a high level of occupational safety, health and environment performance but also to enhance the well-being of the employee and society, indeed.

Bangladesh: The occupational health and safety service in Bangladesh is still in the stage of development and the notion of occupational health and safety here solely refers to workers of industries and does not include all the occupations of the country. The ILO Convention both 155 and 161 are not yet ratified in this country though many of these recommendations have been practiced to some extent through the implementation of existing labour laws. Like most of the western countries, the responsibility of health and safety at workplace is shifted to the employer though the government has a little more responsibility to provide necessary health care services and safety standards.

The constitution of Bangladesh recognises productivity as basic need for development and covers right to work and reasonable wages, medical care, diseases and disablement while this constitutional policy did not turn into a formal national occupational health and safety policy. (Article 15 A and 18 (1))

Lack of work environment standards and exposure limits for different hazards and lack of requirement for periodic structured objective driven medical examination are the main deficiency of the legislations in terms of occupational health and safety.

Recently a study was conducted by DOEH-NIPSOM among different categories of enterprises to assess the state of OSH through surveys on employee, employer and working environment which revealed that the state of OSH was moderate both in large public and private industries in the perspective of the present legislation but while in the medium and small industries the state of OSH is quite shocking specifically regarding the workplace environment and OSH awareness.

The writer is Assistant Programme Officer, Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE).


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