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The workplace culture must change

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Every now and then, we are brutally reminded about the hazards associated with certain occupations.

One of these occasions was last Tuesday, when a 24-year-old man of Montaque died when a retaining wall at a construction site fell on him. The exact circumstances surrounding his death still haven’t been determined, but his death was a harsh reminder of the dangers associated with working on construction sites and how cavalier our society tends to be in relation to the use of safety gear and procedures to minimize the hazards associated with the construction industry, which, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has a higher fatal injury rate than other industries.

Last year was particularly brutal for the construction industry here in St Vincent and the Grenadines in terms of fatal injuries. In March, a 33-year-old mason was electrocuted while working on an extension to a house at Biabou. That same week, a 41-year-old painter of Glen was shocked to death at Indian Bay, when he fell from a ladder and held on to an electrical wire to break his fall. Then, in July, a 27-year-old construction worker fell from a building at North River Road.

Last November, Parliament passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act 2017, with the full support of both sides of the House. The Act is not yet in force, as it has not yet been assented to by the Governor General. Also, according to information, it will be implemented in phases, so as not to bring undue hardship to employers. We, however, urge the authorities to move ahead with the implementation of the Act, including making it available for the perusal of the public, so that all concerned could begin to familiarize themselves with its provisions.

Last year, when the Occupational Safety and Health Bill was being debated, several Members of Parliament gave interesting anecdotes about their experiences on work sites where they observed practices which put workers at risk of injury or even death. Several Members mentioned that even when cautioned, some workers rejected recommendations about safer work practices.

The fact is, even after the Occupational Safety and Health Act comes into force, that will not mean immediate change in relation to workers’ attitudes and adherence to safety procedures. Changing the workplace culture will take patience, persistence, discipline and expenditure on the part of employers.

While much of the responsibility for adherence to the law will rest with the employers, they can only go so far. Employees must understand why things must be done differently, and consistently make use of safety gear provided and use the equipment in keeping with manufacturers’ recommendations. The culture must change; it is a matter of life or death.

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