interviewBy Jaffar Mjasiri
THE Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) has been entrusted to ensure that all working places in the country comply to safety and health in workplaces.
OSHA Chief Executive, Dr Akwilina Kayumba speaks passionately on her initiatives to make OSHA efficient and effective. The authority is under the Ministry of Labour and Employment. In this interview that she granted Our Staff Writer Jaffar Mjasiri recently in Dar es Salaam, she explains that with the limited staff she has been able to come up with some innovative ways, such as team work and exchange of inspectors between zones. Excerpts...
Q. Why is there delay in domesticating Health and Safety conventions?
A. Domesticating any ILO convention requires the member country to have the capacity to implement provisions from the articles of the convention concerned. For example to domesticate the Child labour convention we were required as a country to be able to identifying such vulnerable children and remove them from hazardous work, and provide them with alternative means to afford costs related to education and other needs.
All these need financial and human resources. Similarly for core Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) conventions OSHA needs to look critically at the various articles and advice our government on the best implementation alternatives. Another step is to deliberate together with all relevant stakeholders on an implementation strategy of objectives of each convention.
Q. How can such conventions be domesticated?
A. We need to bring together all relevant stakeholders. Under the implementation strategy all the players including Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Home Affairs and others may share information and harmonise their operations towards an outcome of common interest.
Q. What constraints are there in the existing laws?
A. Most of the legal tools addressing health and safety issues do not provide cross reference to each other. Some existing laws are not tough enough and others indicate an apparent overlap of functions. We need to harmonize OHS related legal tools, assign clear duties and avoid conflicts among the stakeholders. For this we are seeing a lot of cooperation from the ministries employers association and trade unions.
Q. In which stage of the strategic plan are you now?
A. After the national OHS policy, the Ministry is now working hand in hand with OSHA to develop an implementation strategy. We have now a draft implementation strategy. Early next week we will be meeting with safety and health stakeholders to deliberate further on the strategy. We are looking forwards to receiving their views on the best way to improve the working environment through the implantation of the policy objectives.
Q. What major progress has OSHA made so far in registration of workplaces?
A. In March last year, OSHA had registered some 5000 workplaces. Our current OSHA Act does not define a workplace but in simple terms a workplace is anyplace that has people working in order to earn a salary.
Although our current registration this year is well above 6000 workplaces countrywide, we think we have only covered about 20% of all workplaces to be registered. We are extremely thankful to the directive given recently by our Prime Minister Hon Mizengo Kayanza Pinda requiring all owners of all workplace to register with OSHA. The exercise is ongoing.
Q. How do you enforce compliance?
A. To comply to Safety and Health in any workplace is a continuous process. For example as part of compliance to workplace Safety and health requirement a contractor needs to ensure that drawings for the construction project he or she is about to undertake has been scrutinized by OSHA and stamped before construction takes place.
During construction work, the contractor then needs to register as a temporary workplace to allow OSHA Inspectors to carry our statutory inspections on working conditions, electrical safety, plants and machines safety, fitness to work medical-examinations etc. It is after meeting such minimum requirements that a compliance linsence is then issued.
Similarly one who owns a school will need to register the school as a workplace, once the school is registered statutory inspections shall then be carried out is to establish whether it has safe electrical installation, enough ventilation and light, good environment, health policy, toilets, drinking water etc.
We have to ensure that the school meets minimum requirements mentioned above before we issue a compliance. But we know that these standards may deteriorate any time if during a year, therefore compliance certificates may be withdrawn anytime the conditions becomes poor and it needs to be renewed yearly.
Q. Is it true that OSHA wants to get rid of compliance fee?
A. Yes, indeed. We want to do away with the compliance fee, instead of client buying it, we intend to reward them upon meeting the requirements and standards. OSHA compliance certificate is a tool that some organizations need to ensure their export goods will be accepted , some need it before applying for a tender, for construction business, or even for a loan. We feel that if it can be bought then it is likely to compromise health and safety standards.
Q. How do you deal with those who compromise heath and safety in working places?
A. When our inspectors go to the field and establish malpractices they take action. The first time offence is served with improvement notice. Sometimes compounding of offenses is used where by penalty bill is given there and then, For example if a contractor is found deploying labourers or staff without preventive gears, for each individual who is not wearing protective gear the employer is fined 50,000/-. and may be so fined for each additional day that the offense is committed until he rectifies the same. But for chronic offenders we sometimes take them to court. And for the very dangerous processes we may close the process until the hazardous process is rendered safe for the workers.
Q. If I came with a hypothesis that your organization is understaffed, what's your reaction?
A. That is an hypothesis that you will need to test to verify. For example most of stakeholder meeting that we have called OSHA has been blamed for not having enough doctors and inspectors. While it is true that our country is far too big compared to the actual number of inspectors we have, the awareness and hence the demand for some of the OSH services such as fitness to work medical examination is not yet overwhelming.
Furthermore; With the limited staff I have been able to come up with some innovative ways such as team work, exchange of inspectors between zones. To date OSHA inspectors are most often sent in a complete team to inspect electricity, hygiene, plant inspectors etc and complete the task in a day instead of each inspector visiting one workplace alone. This way more workplaces are covered per unit time than before.
Q. Do you hire private inspectors?
A.We do hire private inspectors and pay them 30 to 60 per cent of the fees paid by the client. To curb the gap of inspectors , private inspectors are now combined with OSHA employed inspectors depending on their speciality so as to create more inspection teams.
Q. How many employees are in your organization and how many are specialists?
A. There are around 103 employees working for OSHA. Two thirds of the employees are inspectors. There are few occupational physicians including myself. We have several medical doctors each with a nurse to work with. at this time the medical team is centralized for easy deployment although one team is still located in our southern highland zone ( Mbeya).
Q. What are some of the equipment used by physicians?
A. At OSHA doctors use spirometers to determine lung functions of workers exposed to dust and fumes, we use audiometers to test hearing levels for workers exposed to noise in the workplaces, Snell's chart and fundoscopy set for vision testing, we use ear, nose and throat set for ENT assessment etc.
Others are routine tools like, height/ weight meter, blood pressure measurement machine , tape measures , thermometers, glucometers,and stethoscope. We are also searching to have neurological examination set ,alcohol content testing sets, and Acetycholinestrace testing gadgets.
Q. What about electrical inspection tools?
A. The electrical inspection tools used by our inspectors include clamp meter, megameters, earth-meter and continuity test tools and many more.
Q. Do you conduct training?
A. Currently we are conducting the following training. One is our 3 and 3 weeks modular National Heath and safety Course. We collaborate with experts from Universities and authorities as well as our own tutors. Second, we offer a 5-day orientation course for health and safety representatives and a 3- day Workplace first aid course.
Other short courses are on risk assessment, health and safety in construction and safety and health in working at Height. We know that some universities such as MUHAS are also offering bachelors on Health, occupational and environment, and that some universities including Sokoine University of Agriculture have some modules on health, occupational and environment.
Q. What about freight companies compliance?
A. Freight companies though not all are fully compliant, they always cooperate during statutory inspections. Nevertheless ;they need to report accidents and incidents.
The law requires them to report injury incidents, workers loss of unconsciousness and death, within 24 hours, to be followed by a written report some days later. We have continued to advice interventions where necessary by advising the employers to extend light duties to those who are suffering from illnesses, to avoid long driving, and give supervised or teamdriving for those who has history of epilepsy in their families etc,
Q. How do you rate the Mining sector on compliance?
A. One thing that is important to note is that the nature of mining activities require miners to observe safety and health more strictly than one will do in other sectors. It follows that' almost all registered mining companies have well defined safety and health department that you do not see in our companies.
Some of the risks associated with mining includes heavy manual work, body vibrations from heavy equipment such as dumpers that affects workers muscles and spine, dust inhalation etc. Most of the OSH provisions are implemented by the miners. Despite mining employing less than 2 percent of the working population there is a lot of outcry about their safety and health.
The reason may be because most of those who are employed have some education and understand the hazards therein and hence are able to articulate them loudly. Even if their work environment is not that much safer, of equally importance and not very safe work environment are agriculture workers such as workers is flower farms for example who are exposed to dangerous spray chemicals and peasants who have to use pesticides and weed killers and fertilizers without knowledge of their health hazards and how to protect themselves.
OSH stakeholders, politicians and the entire public need to call for action against importers and suppliers to educate peasants and farmers who use their products on how they can use the toxic chemicals in a safe manner. Q. Do you have access to informal artisanal miners? A. No. We do not have much access to them. Most of them appear to operate illegally and are believed to use most hazardous chemicals including mercury.
But we have access to those who are working in the legal informal sector such as those in quarry industry.
Q. What about the construction industry?
A. There is lack of cooperation among some stakeholders in the construction industry. To my opinion, the recent tragedy of the building that recently collapsed in the city may have been avoided if all stakeholders, we could have been collaborating and practice sharing of information eg during old days municipal authority were believed to insist that all drawings be sent to OSHA for scrutiny, something which is no longer practiced.
Other inspectors from other regulatory bodies could also have shared information with OSHA about new construction projects and unregistered construction projects. It is difficult for OSHA to enforce safety and health issues in temporary workplaces we not aware of. Some professional bodies and project owners in the construction industry still think that the issue of safety and health compliance in constructions is in their jurisdiction and not OSHA. We are grateful that this trend is steadily changing.
Q. Is the lack of coordination an issue?
A: It is a cause for concern , we probably need to form a coordinating body as far as construction industry is concerned with a good network among key stakeholders.
Q. What is your advice to all the stakeholders on Safety and Health?
A. The workplace owners should put equal weight on the safety and health of all their workers in the same way they value their machines. They should not refrain from investing in health and safety of their workers since they are the most import entity at any workplace.