Rise in occupational safety and health awareness

30 Dec 2022 10:51am
Image for illustrative purposes only - BERNAMA
Image for illustrative purposes only - BERNAMA
KUALA LUMPUR - Risks are never out of the equation for a company or an organisation.

The physical and mental health of the workforce at the workplace determines workers’ job engagement to a great extent.

Occupational accidents, diseases or work-related deaths, besides reducing the company’s productivity, can have a significant impact on socio-economic costs and the national income, if these issues are not properly addressed.

Today, all employers including those who are self-employed have a legal responsibility to establish and maintain a safe and healthy environment for workers at the workplace.

According to the Director-General of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) Mohd Anuar Embi, the rate of occupational accidents and deaths at the workplace in the country saw a reduction of 40.4 per cent and 51.7 per cent respectively during the period 2018 to 2021.

A total of 35,460 cases of injuries at the workplace were recorded in 2018 and 21,534 cases in 2021, while 611 work-related deaths were reported in 2018 and 301 in 2021.

"Among the factors contributing to the decline are enforcement and effective promotion including the use of new norm approach as well as the effects of punitive action by the department towards errant employers for failing to comply with occupational safety and health (OSH) laws.

"Besides economic activities in various new occupational sectors which have reopened under the National Recovery Plan and the transition to endemic phase, employers and workers are more aware of the importance of implementing and complying with the standard operating procedures (SOP) including the OSH aspects.

"Besides the results of the long-term implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Master Plan (OSHMP), the active role of training providers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and OSH practitioners in helping employers raise their OSH standards at the workplace also contributed to the drop in cases,” he told Bernama recently.
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Based on the comparison analysis by the DOSH, the rate of injuries and workplace fatalities in Malaysia in 2021 was almost on par with those in Singapore, Japan and the United Kingdom (UK).

The rate of occupational accidents per 1,000 workers in Malaysia was at 1.43, Singapore (3.87), Japan (2.77) and UK (2.38), while for workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers, Malaysia recorded 2.00, Singapore (1.10), Japan (1.60) and UK (0.44).

Malaysia recorded a total of 21,534 cases of occupational accidents in 2021 compared to 32,674 in the previous year. The types of occupational accidents are falls, struck by falling object, stepped on, hit and hurt by object; squeezed by heavy object; excessive movement; exposed to extreme temperature; exposed to electricity flow; exposed to hazards, etc.

For work-related deaths, the types of accidents are similar to those above, with 301 cases reported in 2021 compared to 312 in 2020.

On the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 1994 or Act 514 which was enforced since Feb 25, 1994 to ensure the safety, health and welfare of everyone at the workplace, Mohd Anuar said it is based on the concept of self-regulation with the key responsibility of ensuring occupational safety and health on the person creating risks (employer) and the one at risk (worker).

"Among the provisions of the Act, employers have a duty to ensure, as far as is practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of all his employees (Section 15); prepare a safety and health policy (Section 16); establish a safety and health committee at the workplace (Section 30) and the general duties of employees at work (Section 24).

"Provisions of the act allow for an occupational safety and health management system at the workplace. The implementation of this system can help increase the OSH level at the workplace in order to create a safe, healthy, conducive and productive workplace and environment,” he added.

"The government has taken various initiatives to increase the nation’s occupational safety and health level, among others, through the National Occupational and Health Policy, implementing the OSHMP and improving and enforcing the OSH laws.

"The government has introduced amendments to the OSHA 1994 among others by increasing the penalties from a maximum fine of RM50,000 to RM500,000 or two years’ jail or both.

"Amendments to the penalties were made after taking into consideration the views of all the relevant parties including the government, employers, employees and occupational safety and health practitioners. This serves as a lesson for those who ignore or totally disregard the OSH management at the workplace.

"Be mindful that any infringement of these OSHA provisions is tantamount to a criminal offence. Besides that, individuals who are involved in accidents or are injured due to activities at their workplace can file a civil suit against parties who are responsible for the accidents or injuries,” he explained.

Mohd Anuar also said that OSH laws in Malaysia provide equal protection to all workers irrespective of their citizenship.

In this context, employers are responsible for ensuring workers’ safety, health and welfare at the workplace, workers perform their work in line with provisions of Section 24 under Act 514 while DOSH must ensure that employers and workers carry out their responsibilities in accordance with legal requirements through enforcement, investigation and punitive action.

Elaborating on work-related accidents and deaths, he said, these are provided for in the Occupational Safety and Health (Notification of Accident, Dangerous Occurrence, Occupational Poisoning and Occupational Disease) Regulations 2004 (NADOPOD).

"DOSH will probe into cases of occupational accidents and diseases which have been reported. Based on investigations, DOSH will take action including issuing (stop-work) orders, improvement, prohibition and compound notices or take parties to court.

"Workers who are affected by an occupational hazard and contribute to the Social Security Organisation (SOCSO), are entitled to benefits under the Employment Injury Scheme such as medical benefit, temporary disablement benefit, permanent disablement benefit, constant attendance allowance, funeral benefit, education benefit and facilities for physical/vocational rehabilitation dependents’ benefit,” he added.

On the call by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) last April for employers and unions to include safety and health clauses in the collective agreement (CA), he said the DOSH highly appreciated efforts by all parties to improve and elevate the occupational safety and health aspects in the country.

"The inclusion of the OSH clause in the CA will ensure OSH aspects are given serious attention by employers and workers and equally with other aspects that are contained in the agreement such as salary, allowance and other employee wellbeing benefits,” he added.

He said to raise employee compliance and awareness from OSH aspects in Malaysia, the Human Resource Ministry, through the DOSH has launched the OSH Master Plan 2021-2025 (OSHMP25) on Oct 13, 2021.

"The initiative is an ongoing effort to promote a safe and healthy work culture in the country. The OSH’s strategic plan for the period 2021-2025 is implemented through OSHMP25.

"For the purpose of its implementation, the government has provided a financial allocation totalling RM8.5 million under the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP). It is the department’s hope that all stakeholders including employers, workers and OSH practitioners are committed to ensuring the mission to elevate and empower OSH is implemented successfully in line with the theme of OSHMP25: OSH Inclusive - Equality and Commitment.

Meanwhile, commenting on occupational hazards or risks of illnesses or accidents in the workplace, an Occupational Health Doctor, Dr Shawaludin Husin said they cover physical, chemical, biological, ergonomics and psychosocial aspects.

Physical aspects include workers’ exposure to hot environment, extreme temperature, loud noise, exposed to chemicals (heavy metal, poison, solvent); biology (virus including COVID-19, infectious animals); ergonomics, (equipment, position during work, repetitive work) and psychosocial hazards (stress, depression, overtime work).

"What usually happens is loud noise disturbance at the workplace. Some employers still use old technology or machinery that generates loud noise that exceeds the permissible noise level, hence posing risks to workers’ hearing and some have become deaf.

"Ergonomic issues such as slip-disc are also common due to workers’ unsuitable positions at the workplace, or they have to carry out repetitive tasks, carry or push heavy objects although risks can be minimised with the use of machines.

"Besides short-term breathlessness, workers risk suffering from lung infection, skin disease, nerve damage and cancer due to exposure to dust and chemical substances over a prolonged period,” he added.

Dr Shawaludin said workplace stress is gaining increasing attention as it can cause anxiety disorder, depression disorder and post-traumatic disorder.

He said while employee stress can be linked to external factors, employers should identify the causes as they may be due to heavy workload leading to burnout, working overtime or they are often disturbed by employers who contact them after working hours or during leave.

"In addressing this issue (stress), it is more of balancing between work and life as well as humanitarian values. There should be an affirmative approach towards employers who stress out their workers,” he added.

Noting that existing laws and acts are sufficient, he said enforcements should be conducted more aggressively to provide lessons for employers who take OSH aspects lightly.

"Take for example, the decision to postpone the implementation of the minimum wage for employers with few than five employees from Jan 1, 2023 to July 1, 2023.

"If the government and employers can compromise on the minimum wage issue, will the safety and health aspects of workers face the same fate? This is what worries us.

"Employers should not use excuses that they are burdened with operational costs and are struggling with post-pandemic recovery, to deny workers’ role and rights to fair wages,” he said.

He said economic aspects and OSH should complement each other in order to create an environment of self-discipline, subsequently increasing productivity, promoting harmony at the workplace, ensuring quality employers and attracting investors to Malaysia. - BERNAMA