opinionBy Wenceslaus Murape
The World Congress on Safety and Health at Work is hosted every year in September with a deliberate focus on building healthier and safer workplaces. It seeks to bring to the fore the importance of a safe working environment in an era where short cuts in provision of decent work conditions are fast becoming a norm.
The meeting brings together more than 3 000 policymakers, experts, industry and labour leaders from over 100 countries including Zimbabwe.
The National Social Security Authority Occupational Health and Safety department, as well as the Zimbabwe Occupational Health Safety Council yearly represents Zimbabwe.
The human cost of daily tragedies due to occupational accidents in Zimbabwe is immeasurable, while many of the hazards have remained hidden and ignored.
Zimbabwe has experienced some of its worst work related accidents in the past dating back to 1972 when 427 coal miners perished at Kamandama, Hwange Colliery after an explosion caused by methane gas at No. 1 mine shaft.
Another terrible occupational accident occurred in 2003 when the CABS Millenium Tower along Samora Machel Avenue in Harare was under construction.
Fifteen construction workers perished after a goods hoist they had boarded to take them up failed and crashed.
The Palm Groove Farm accident, which claimed 23 lives and left 14 seriously injured is also among the country's worst occupational accidents.
Most people spend about a third of the day at work, meaning that the working environment can have a major impact on their health.
Governments therefore found it necessary to enact legislation regulating working environments in the interest of employers' and workers' safety and health.
In Zimbabwe, there are various pieces of legislation that relate to occupational safety and health. One such law is the Factories and Works Act, Chapter 14:08 of 1996.
It provides for the registration and control of factories, the regulation of conditions of work in factories, supervision of the use of machinery and precautions against accidental injury to persons employed on structural work.
The origins of the Factories and Works Act dates back to 1948 when the first legislation was passed in the then Southern Rhodesia.
The original Act was amended over the years. The current one was revised in 1996.
While most people understand a factory to be a place where goods are manufactured, the definition of factory contained in the Act is much broader.
The Factories and Works Act defines a factory as any premises on which any person performs any of the following activities.
The making of any article or part of any article; the altering, repairing, renovating, ornamenting, painting, spraying, polishing, finishing, cleaning, dyeing or breaking up of any particles.
It also includes the adaptation for sale or use of any articles; the sorting, assembling or packing of any articles, including washing or filling bottles or other containers; painting, spraying, construction, reconstruction, assembling, repairing or breaking up of vehicles or parts thereof.
Printing by letterpress, lithography, photogravure or other similar process, including any activity associated with the printing industry is also included.
The production and storage of gas in a holder of more than 150 cubic metres storage capacity; the freezing, chilling or storage in cold storage of any article; the slaughtering of any livestock, generation of electricity and photographic work is in the list.
As can be seen from the list, workshops, abattoirs, power stations, printing presses and places where manufacturing takes place are all considered factories in terms of the Act. They are therefore subject to the provisions of the Act.
The Act provides for the appointment of inspectors to administer the Act and to ensure compliance with its requirements. It also specifies the powers and duties of the inspector.
All premises on which the activities mentioned above are carried out must, in terms of the Act, be registered as factories. This is a legal requirement.
It is an offence to carry out factory activities on such premises without a current factory registration certificate. It is, therefore, the duty of every factory owner to ensure that his premises are registered as prescribed by the law. Any company that is unsure whether or not its premises fall within the scope of the Act can seek guidance from the Factory Inspector within the Occupational Safety and Health division of NSSA.
Boilers and machinery, including elevators and escalators, must be inspected by an inspector appointed by the Minister of Labour and Social Services in terms of the Factories and Works Act. If the machinery or boiler passes the inspection, the inspector will issue a certificate. The regulations require that users should have a current certificate for their equipment. An inspector should check the equipment at specific intervals as prescribed by the law.
It is the duty of the factory owner (or occupier) to maintain an accident register in which to enter accidents that occur within a factory or at a workplace where structural work is being carried out.
All accidents must be reported to the inspector if they result in loss of life, permanent injury or the employee being absent from work for at least three days.
Accidents must also be reported if they involve people not employed on the premises or if they involve machinery.