By Alexis R. Milan Staff Reporter
The Occupational Safety and Health Bill, 2014, is a proposed legislation that would establish regulatory principles for big and small employers and their employees, and would carry stiff penalties for non-compliant persons.
The recently tabled bill was lobbied for by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize and NTUCB President Dylan Reneau explained, “This bill is good for both workers and employers.”
The OSH Bill, once passed, would be applicable to all workplaces, and to both temporary and permanent workers. Section Four of the bill does state, however, that “This act does not apply to the workplace of a domestic worker, owner or occupier of a private residence.”
The bill states that any person or entity that fails to comply with the regulations established in the act would be guilty of an offence.
An offence on the part of a “natural person” could be fined up to $25,000 or in the event that the fine is not paid, be sentenced up to one year in jail. In the case of an offense commited by a corporate or unincorporated body, the penalty could be a fine of up to $250,000 or a jail sentence of up to three years, though the bill does not state who from such a body would serve the prison sentence.
When Prime Minister Dean Barrow introduced the bill at the last House Sitting, he stated that if this bill were passed it would come at a huge financial cost.
“There will be a tremendous burden, and financial cost, not only for government, but for the private sector and to small individual employers.”
Barrow also added, “The unions need to recognize that if you start making it unduly burdensome for private employers to comply, in terms of the protective stuff, they will lay off people.”
Barrow then stated that it would take a great deal of maneuvering to get the public to buy into accepting this bill. He then stated that, after public consultation, “Ultimately, if the society says ‘no,’ know this, this is a democracy.”
Part two of the bill describes the duties of employers: “Every employer shall ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of all his workers.”
This includes providing and maintaining a workplace that is safe and without risk of bodily injury, providing adequate protective clothing or devices to workers who are vulnerable to physical injury, sufficient training, appropriate sanitary facilities, and the development of a safety and health policy.
The bill also describes the duties of self-employed persons who must take steps to ensure their safety.
Self-employed persons must also comply with health standards, regulations and procedures as well as report to the Chief Inspector.
Some businesses such as manufacturers, importers, suppliers and installers would be required to have a comprehensive, independent Safety Audit carried out every four years.
The bill also outlines duties for workers. Workers must “take all care not to take any action, or make omission, that creates risk or increases an existing risk, to the safety and health of any worker, including himself or another person.”
This includes properly using any safety equipment provided by the employer, complying with safety and health requirements, reporting instances of accident or injury to a supervisor.
The bill also establishes the National Occupational Safety and Health Authority, a body that will enforce the laws of the act as well as facilitate the development of national safety and health standards and codes of practice.
The bill also establishes the Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate, a secretariat which will include a Chief Inspectorate, and inspectors for each district.
These inspectors will have the authority to enter any workplace and evaluate the conditions of the workplace in accordance with the regulations of the OSH Bill, require the production of licences and documents and photograph the working conditions.