World Day for Safety and Health at Work

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“Improving Safety and Health in Workplaces in Africa”

Safety and health at work is a critical issue that warrants maximum consideration from governments and employers all around the world. The rights of workers cannot be upheld in an environment that does not prioritize their safety and wellbeing. International labour standards, in recognition of this fact, state that employers are to periodically ensure that the working environment is safe and conducive for workers. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In reality, many casualties arise from work-related hazards which affects both the employer and the employee in diverse and dire ways.

According to the International Labour Organization, almost 2.3 million people globally, fall prey to work-related accidents. In terms of fatalities, about 6000 work-related deaths are recorded daily. In Africa, the situation is even more bleak, as a high proportion of workers are found in the informal sector where largely, standards are not being adhered to and many workers find themselves in perilous situations.

The subject of safety and health at the workplace has become even more pertinent and deserving of immediate attention in a period where the coronavirus pandemic threatens our livelihoods and more importantly, our very existence. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the pandemic has cast a spotlight on various cracks and gaps in our social setup and the world of work has been at the forefront of this global reckoning. It is obvious that several work environments do not conform to globally accepted standards of safety and consistently expose workers to precarious situations.

On top of this, many workers lack access to basic healthcare services or cannot afford treatment for even the simplest of medical cases. This is an affront to their basic human right and the coronavirus pandemic has blown the covers off this farce. The good news however, is that there is still a lot that can be accomplished if governments, employers and employees work together.

The ILO has adopted more than 40 labour standards that deal specifically with occupational health and safety; however, many countries are yet to ratify these conventions and domesticate them into laws. For example, only 11 African countries have ratified the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187) and in 2 of these countries namely, Senegal and Somalia, the convention will enter into force in 2022. On the Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161), only 7 African countries have ratified it.

African governments need to ramp up efforts to adopt these global standards and subsequently develop laws and regulations that will guide authorities in protecting workers. These laws will serve as the pillars upon which employers and employees lean on in order to build safe and secure working environments and uphold the rights of workers.

Employers must also take up their responsibility in this area of ensuring that workers’ rights in terms of safety and health at work are secured. The working environment must conform to globally accepted standards of safety and security and workers must also have access to basic medical services so they can protect their health and their lives.

In order to build a thriving African economy, African workers must enjoy their rights, especially with regard to safety and health. As partners in this development process, we must all do our part to ensure that this becomes our reality as Africans.