Is OSH Safe For You?

Occupational safety and health in the workplace is unquestionably important.
For many businesses, particularly large industrial ones, the recently tabled OSH Bill should merely formalize already existing safety programs.
For others, unsafe practices should be eliminated through the introduction of reasonable safety requirements. Regrettably this is not what this Bill achieves. Therefore, if you employ anyone, even a babysitter, and despite any safety policies you already have in place, you should review this piece of pending legislation carefully.
Assume the law applies to you until proven otherwise. The draft law states that “workplace” means ‘any place, whether or not in a building or structure, or industrial establishments, mines or businesses, where workers go and work or which is under the direct or indirect control of the employer.’
Just above that definition, “worker” is defined ‘as any person providing a service, whether for wages or not, including an apprentice, or who has entered into or works under a contract of employment with an employer and includes a domestic worker who is employed to do household work in another person’s home, house, building, structure, place or premises occupied as private dwelling.’
Imagine the impossibilities. Even though Section 6.-(1) requires every employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare of all his workers, Section 6.-(2)(a) says that the employer’s duty extends to providing and maintaining a workplace, plant or systems of work that is safe and without risks of bodily injury.
Is ensuring perfect safety ever possible? If an employer is held to such an absolute standard in a country where adventure tourism is a fast-growing niche market, will we still be able to send people to the Crystal Cave or diving in the Blue Hole? Despite the many excellent safety measures employed by guides in both those locations and many others involving similar risk, accidents do happen.
In an office where paper cuts are a risk, should we require all employees to wear gloves? The standard should be to ensure that there is reasonable safety as total safety is impossible.
Prepare for indefinite investigations.
The law gives Inspectors the right to enter a workplace at any time, take away samples, suspend use of equipment, take possession of ‘any plant or thing’ for further examination or testing, and direct that all or part of a workplace be left undisturbed for as long as necessary.
Keeping in mind that there may be as few as six Inspectors for the entire country, and given the stringent standards called for within the law, achieving clearance to resume operations may take a very long time.
Your mistake may cost you $250,000.
The 70-page OSH Bill attempts to cover all procedures covering safety in almost any workplace, though with particular emphasis on chemicals and construction. The Bill cannot ensure total worker safety, because accidents happen no matter what.
However, while it does exhort workers to follow safety guidelines, it seeks to be so thorough in protecting every individual in every workplace that it threatens the very existence of the workplace itself.
Yet the extravagant penalties apply only to employer and management rather than addressing any individual(s) found negligent. Inevitably, this broad-reaching legislation leaves too much open to interpretation and adds burdensome bureaucracy.
The investment in equipment and training required when zero risk is mandated, the cost of indefinite shutdowns, the inevitable slow downs caused when six inspectors must cover almost every employment condition in the country, the unavoidable penalties for inability to prevent every accident, all contribute to a situation where a potentially good law becomes damaging.
Our legislators, in reviewing what has been drafted, should consider a more specific focus on reasonable workplace safety. Require that the right equipment and training be provided for the job at hand, and apply penalties for negligence, whether by employer or worker.
Ensure prompt investigations result in proportional penalties for endangerment and causing injury. As such requirements become entrenched a safety-oriented culture develops. Further provisions can be comfortably and affordably added in due course. However, in current draft this legislation endangers the workplace in an impossible effort to completely protect every worker and thereby illustrates the meaning of ‘counterproductive.’

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