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Better Safe than Sorry
As an SME grows in size and employs more and more workers, the issue of occupational safety and health becomes a more pressing issue that needs to be urgently addressed.
Accidents in the workplace and prolonged sick leaves taken by employees can severely disrupt the operations of an SME. The dilemma among the SMEs in the small category is that they lack the capability and capacity to create and implement an effective system for their workers’ occupational safety and health (OSH). There has been increased awareness in OSH issues over the past few years as SMEs are beginning to acknowledge OSH as a key determinant of competitiveness through reduced safety and health risks, which in turn results in higher productivity and profitability. However, SMEs also find themselves confronted with the problem of putting this significant philosophy into practice at the workplace. This problem arises as most SMEs lack the manpower, expertise and financial resources to meet the OSH standards as stipulated in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 1994 (Act 514), which forms the legislative framework for OSH in Malaysia. Furthermore, SMEs are questioning whether the OSH legislation is entirely applicable to them, as SMEs typically employ a small number of workers.
Number of Reported Industrial Accidents (1999-2006)
Number of Reported Industrial Accidents
Social Security Organisation (SOCSO)
THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT (OSHA) 1994 (ACT 514)
The OSHA provides the legislative framework to promote, stimulate and encourage high standards of safety and health at work. The aim is to promote safety and health awareness, and establish effective safety organization and performance through self-regulation schemes designed to suit the particular industry or organization. The long-term goal of the Act is to create a healthy and safe working culture among all Malaysian employees and employers.
The OSHA is applicable throughout Malaysia in the following industries:
2. Mining and Quarrying
4. Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing
(c) Water; and
(d) Sanitary Services
6. Transport, Storage and Communication
7. Wholesale and Retail Trades
8. Hotels and Restaurants
9. Finance, Insurance, Real Estate and Business Services
10. Public Services and Statutory Authorities
The OSHA is a relatively young legislation in Malaysia compared to other acts and regulations. In view of the constraints in the OSH legislation, SMEs are still struggling to meet the minimum requirements for safety and health at the workplace. The OSHA currently rests with the concept of self-regulation among SMEs. A responsible employer is one who takes charge to work with the risks he or she has created by applying relevant preventive measures to control safety and health risks. This is clearly displayed if an employer who requires an employee to undertake a risky task applies what is required of him by law to provide the necessary training to enable the employee to perform his duties safely. The employee on the other hand must do his or her part in following instructions to work safely.
Since its enactment in 1994, OSHA has been successful in reducing the rate of accidents per 1,000 workers but the OSHA has only been effective to a certain extent in tackling traditional OSH problems while fatality rate still remains high. Injuries from the use of machinery and diseases contracted from the exposure to chemicals and solvents are still rampant amongst SMEs. These traditional OSH problems are still best controlled using traditional strategies such as risk assessment, technical preventive measures, inspection and auditing as well as training.
IMPORTANT DUTIES OF EMPLOYERS UNDER OSHA
It is the responsibility of the company to take steps to protect its workers’ safety and health. Part IV of the OSHA states that it is the duty of every employer to ensure the safety, health and welfare of his workers at work. The employer is also responsible for preparing a written statement of his general policy on the safety and health at work of his employees and the organization and arrangements in force for carrying out that policy, and to bring the statement and any revision of it to the notice of all of his employees.
Under Section 30 of the OSHA, employers who have 40 workers or above, or as directed by the Director General, must establish a safety and health committee at their workplace. The committee's main function is to review the measures taken to ensure the safety and health of workers at the workplace and investigate any related matters arising.
An employer must also notify the nearest occupational safety and health office of any accident, dangerous occurrence, occupational poisoning or occupational disease which has occurred or is likely to occur at the workplace.
DEPARTMENT OF OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH (DOSH)
The OSHA is enforced by DOSH, a government department under the Ministry of Human Resources Malaysia. DOSH will ensure that employers, self-employed persons and all employees practice a good working culture and comply with existing legislation, guidelines and codes of practice through its enforcement and promotional activities.
Specifically, DOSH’s policies are formulated with the following objectives:
• To prepare and preserve a workplace with a safe and healthy working system;
• To ensure that all staff are provided with the relevant information, instruction, training and supervision regarding methods to carry out their duties in a safe manner and without causing any risk to health;
• To investigate all accidents, diseases, poisonous and/or dangerous occurrences, and to have action taken to ensure that these occurrences will not be repeated;
• To comply with all the requirements of legislations related to safety and health as stated in the Occupational Safety And Health Act 1994, as well as regulations and codes of practice which have been approved;
• To provide basic welfare facilities to all workers; and
• To revise and improve on this policy whenever necessary.
To ensure that the objectives of this policy are fully met, a safety and health officer is appointed in every state office for the purpose of coordinating and discharging the planned activities related to safety and health.
Apart from formulating and enforcing Acts and regulations, the Government has also carried out promotional activities to help on creating awareness on OSH not only to employers and employees but also to the general public. These promotional activities come in the form of seminars, courses and campaigns and are the government’s first steps in inculcating a safe and healthy work culture in Malaysians. There is no denying that moulding a safe and healthy work culture will take time and effort but the results will be highly beneficial in helping to solve many OSH problems. Chances are that a safe and healthy work culture will not happen overnight and that OSH awareness must be deliberately fostered through various efforts and initiatives. Where previously the Programme Approach was the way to go about in tackling OSH issues, the government via DOSH is now focusing on the Systems Approach to formulate long-term solutions to OSH issues.
In relation to the need for a systematic mechanism to oversee and monitor the actual implementation of OSH programmes, DOSH and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will be working collaboratively. NIOSH was set up by the government in 1992 to be the leading centre of excellence in OSH, to spearhead the safety and health culture in the workplace.
For more information about OSH in Malaysia, kindly contact:
Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH)
(Ministry of Human Resources)
Levels 2, 3 & 4, Block D3, Complex D
Federal Government Administrative Centre
62530 Putrajaya, Malaysia
Tel: 603-8886 5000 Fax: 603-8889 2443
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Lot 1, Jalan 15/1, Section 15
43650 Bandar Baru Bangi
Tel: 603-8769 2100 Hotline: 603-8926 5606 Fax: 603-8926 2900
The rules and regulations concerning OSH only serve as a guide for businesses. The first step in handling OSH issue begins with the employers themselves. SMEs must show concern for their workers’ wellbeing and take the necessary steps to implement what’s necessary to ensure a safer workplace and a healthier workforce.