THE Association for Community and Dialogue, which is concerned about workers’ welfare, welcomes the proposed amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 1994 by the Human Resources Ministry. This comes in the wake of a number of fatal accidents in the construction sector.
Under the proposed amendments, the maximum fine for an offence, which is currently RM50,000, will be raised significantly.
Under the amendments, which are set to be tabled in March, project owners and designers, alongside employers and main contractors, will be held responsible for construction safety and health.
It is hoped that the new proposals, if adopted, will compel project owners, designers, employers and main contractors to work in a coordinated way in ensuring that safety rules are adhered to through work practices that set high safety standards.
While such amendments are positive, there are general missing links on safety standards that need to be addressed.
There is much focus on systems and penalties with less attention on human factors in safety and health.
As a safety officer for 10 years in the manufacturing sector, I have come across accidents that are not caused by system failure but by psychological and physiological stress.
For example, when I did an investigation on two veteran employees who lost part of their fingers in an accident involving machine rollers in a manufacturing plant, they told me that at the time of the accident, they were extremely stressed, tired and thirsty. Thus safety procedures were not on their minds.
These workers have been operating and repairing the machine for 20 years, and had clear knowledge of safety measures and yet, all this failed in this situation.
I have come across fatal injuries as a result of workers wanting to finish up as fast as possible, thus resorting to using inappropriate methods at work, which led to accidents.
Safety procedures, training and risk assessment will not resolve safety issues.
There is a need for technological devices such as sensors to detect the state of the physical body to signal risks.
In an article last month in the Time magazine on the best inventions of 2018, under the heading “New way to protect workers”, a worker at a grocery distribution facility in New York strapped a sensor onto his chest. As he lugged heavy packs around the warehouse, the devices tracked how he moved.
Eventually, it gauged that he was at risk of serious injury, in large part due to the amount of stress he was putting on his spine. So the worker met his manager, and together they came up with a solution: the worker was given a hook to help with lugging, so he wouldn’t have to bend over as much.
This shows how safety rules and measures, complemented by technological devices, are effective and preventive in monitoring physical movements that can lead to injuries.
These sensors can be used on workers in high-risk situations such in construction and manufacturing plants.
There is need to embrace technology to complement safety rules, which requires a paradigm shift in the mindset of owners, designers, employers and main contractors.
Technology-related devices for accident prevention should be recognised as an investment to prevent the high costs of paying fines for negligence and hours lost due to injury.
Executive secretary, Association for Community and Dialogue