Health & Safety in the Himalayas

Challenges in improving health and safety in the developing world

In early 2012 one of Antaris’s consultants was contracted through the World Bank for a project in the small Himalayan country of Bhutan. The task was to assist the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources in researching and documenting the National Health and Safety Policy, consult with stakeholders and finalise the Policy in agreement with the ministry.

 The project had four main objectives:

  1. Analysis of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) performance of a sample of representative work-places in the country
  2. Implement initial training and institutional strengthening of the Department of Labour (DoL) for work-place inspection and improvement
  3. Understanding of the context for the National OHS Policy
  4. Draft and agree the National OHS Policy

Analysis of the current Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) performance & Training

Initially three OHS inspection training workshops were delivered across a range of representative workplaces in the country including automobile, utilities, construction, food/beverages and manufacturing industries.

During the site visits the consultant, together with the DoL officials, collected information on the level of understanding of OHS on the part of the visited employer, the level of compliance with existing legislation and the general safety performance of the company.  The existing legislation was similar in many respects to the various safety, health and welfare at work acts and regulations implemented in the EU since the 1970s and up to recently.

Implementation of health and safety legislation and standards varies considerably as would be expected as the country is relatively new to industry and its hazards and risks. Many of the higher risk industries have been brought to the country from India. In the case of hydroelectric stations, the evidence from the visits was that this industry brought a very positive, systematic and process based approach to safety and health, along with a high level of knowledge and competence.  On the other hand the construction, chemicals and mining undertakings visited have a long way to go before the more serious hazards are addressed effectively.  It was also noted that construction workers may work a seven day week, significantly increasing the likelihood of human error.

Those companies which had implemented management systems had a number of advantages over other companies visited:

  1. Safety data sheets were available for chemicals on site
  2. Hazards had been identified for food safety/HACCP requirements so the sites were familiar with the hazard identification and risk assessment concept and process
  3. One site had applied the food safety based HACCP (Hazard Assessment and Critical Control Points) process to a hazard identification process for OHS
  4. The sites were familiar with other relevant concepts, including continuous improvement, operational control and performance monitoring and measurement

 Context of the National OHS Policy

There is a lack of understanding among the vast majority of employers concerning the requirements to document an OHS Policy for the organisation.

There is a general failure to identify hazards, conduct risk assessments and implement controls in a systematic and documented manner

Emergency plans are generally either not documented or inadequate, in particular plans for safeguarding employees in the event of an emergency evacuation

There is an over-reliance on Personal Protective Equipment as the primary means of safeguarding employees without consideration of hazard elimination, minimization, isolation or engineering controls

Overall, many employers appear to be relying on the Department of Labour to provide OHS resources and information. This will be unsustainable in the long term, although initially the Department may provide guidance and direction. Employers must take responsibility for educating themselves fully on the hazards created by their operations and implementing adequate controls. It must also be stressed that most of the Department of Labour inspectors are new to the area of OHS and relatively new to the Department.

The principle concern was the very high level of risk in many organizations, some of which have the potential to cause fatalities, either through serious accident, fire or explosion, or occupational disease.

Draft and agree the National OHS Policy

In order to ensure that priorities are based on the best return in invested time and resources, the following were suggested and incorporated into a documented 5 year strategic programme:

  • Major focus on the high risk industries and specific high risk sites, based on risk assessment and accident records
  • Focus on accident and dangerous occurrence reporting by employers
  • Further institutional strengthening of the DoL to facilitate accurate identification of hazard and risk at employer sites
  • Education and awareness improvement among employers, particularly with regard to their responsibilities
  • Continuous improvement plan with annual objectives, targets and programmes
  • Public awareness campaign to promote employee consultation and involvement in OHS
  • Development of voluntary OHS organisations in the country to promote OHS as a career
  • Development of International communications with DoL counterparts
  • Development of information sharing among the country’s Ministries and Departments

These five areas were also identified as areas for improvement

  • Accident and Dangerous Occurrence Reporting
  • Institutional Strengthening
  • Education and awareness improvement among employers
  • Continuous improvement
  • National OHS Policy

Details of this can be seen in the more detailed account of this blog by clicking here

 National Strategic Plan

The Department of Labour has a broad brief, including working conditions, pay and compliance with Labour Law in general.  A national strategic plan was drafted to focus actions over the next five years and ensure the limited resources are well deployed. This has taken the recommendations from the project and translated them into a prioritised action plan. It is hoped that this will contribute to improving health and safety in all workplaces, and among those who live near them. A programme of monitoring key indicators should assist in understanding what is working and what may need additional resources or a new approach.

To read the full piece click on this link

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