International Social Security Association (ISSA) in collaboration with the management and staff of the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) Thursday officially kick-started a two-day technical seminar. The opening ceremony of the seminar was held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Kololi while sessions are currently underway at the Ocean Bay Hotel in Cape Point.
Declaring the seminar open, Mass Axi Gai, minister of Fisheries and Water Resources who deputised the minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment, noted that the seminar is coming at the right time especially when they in The Gambia have barely introduced the Industrial Injuries Compensation Scheme. "As a new scheme there is the need to sensitise the people for whom it is intended to serve. It is hoped that this seminar would help reach out to both employers, employees as well as other stakeholders to create the required awareness of this important scheme," he remarked. He lamented that reports suggest that many cases of work accidents and occupational diseases go unreported as a result of lack of awareness. He added that the seminar would hopefully address this problem.
Minister Gai told the gathering that the safety and health of workers is of paramount importance to the president of the Republic, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh, who, according to him, wasted no time appointing SSHFC and the Labour Department to jointly administer the Industrial Injuries Compensation Scheme in 1996. "Since, then the Labour Legislations on health, safety and working environment have been done in accordance with the spirit of ILO convention and recommendations," he remarked.
The Fisheries and Water Resources minister recalled that the legislation for the supervision of factories and machinery was reviewed in 1990, with Section 5 empowering the minister for Labour to develop regulations relative to the following: The health and safety of all persons employed in or about all factories machinery; the prevention of accidents in factories; regulating the hours of work factories; regulating conditions under which buildings are to be used as factories or for installation of machineries; and the appointment of inspectors for carrying out the provisions of this Act and prescribing their duties and powers.
He noted that the risk of accident is relatively higher in factories due to the use of boilers and heavy machinery which are not properly and sufficiently guarded from their operators. He added: "In some cases, the workers are reluctant to use the protective gears provided to them. However, with the mass sensitisation programme in place, more workers would become more aware and hopefully take measures to prevent unnecessary accidents." For his part, Edward Graham, managing director of SSHFC, said that they have not had an ISSA meeting in The Gambia for many years now. He also said that he is not sure if ISSA has missed The Gambia, but knows that The Gambia missed ISSA so much. He added that that is why when this seminar was proposed they grabbed the opportunity. He further stated that the seminar offers a rare opportunity to network, share experiences and above all sensitise the Gambian public together with other member organisations of ISSA on work accidents and occupational diseases. He noted that the session would provide a situation analysis of high-risk industries in Africa, good practices and solutions to reduce hazard exposure and discuss how the challenges to improve the overall situation can be met.
Graham averred that the importance of the seminar cannot be overemphasized, as it would showcase best possible services and enhance the ability to identify and recognise occupational diseases. He then extended a warm welcome to the delegates and wished them an enjoyable stay in the Smiling Coast. He also thanked all those who contributed in one way or the other to the success of the seminar.
Bernd Treichel, Technical Expert in Prevention at the ISSA, said the technical seminar presents a great opportunity to further advance the discussions in the area of occupational safety and health, to discuss occupational challenges in high-risk sectors, to discuss approaches to occupational diseases in Africa and to discuss social protection and prevention in social security. "But still, while a number of positive advancements in the area of safety and health at work can be noticed, the number of accidents and occupational diseases worldwide is still far from acceptable," he remarked. Treichel disclosed that 2.34 million people die each year from work-related accidents and diseases while two million die as a result of an occupational disease. He added: "We do believe that prevention is a societal responsibility and that social security organisations and occupational safety and health actors should play a proactive role in promoting and developing their national prevention culture." Dr. Joachim Breuer, chairperson of ISSA Technical Commission on Insurance against Employment Accidents and Occupational Diseases, also spoke on the occasion. The ceremony was graced by the secretary general and minister for Presidential Affairs, Dr. Njogu Bah; minister of Foreign Affairs, Susan Waffa-Ogoo; vice chancellor of UTG, Prof. Mohammadou M.O. Kah; delegates of ISSA, staff of SSHFC, diplomats, and the general public.