By JOWIT SALUSEKI -
THE construction sector in the country has recently witnessed a boom with both skilled and semi skilled employable populace been absorbed in the labour market.
Suffice to state that while it is a commendable feat that a good number of people have found jobs in this sector, it is also true to state that the industry is also prone to employees working without personal protective equipments thereby risking their lives to occupational diseases.
Zambia is among several countries worldwide that have committed to provide safe and healthy working environments for citizens in employment.
However, a year hardly passes without reports of workers getting injured as a result of poor safety.
Reports of workers either getting injured or dying due to poor safety at work abound.
The Government, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, has established legislation that encourages protection of workers in their places of work.
Although each sector has its own safety and health procedure, the Factories Act contains general rules and regulations that every employer in Zambia has to abide by.
A clean working environment, safe clothing, head gear and footwear, adequate ventilation prevention of overcrowding, first aid, lighting, sanitary facilities training on safety and health fire extinguishers and hydrants are some of the many basic requirements that every employer in Zambia is supposed to provide to its employees.
Offenders who fail to provide basic safety and health regulations face penalties such as a fine on owners of the factory, prohibiting the employment of people whose safety and health are at risk.
Other measures include limiting the hours of employment of all persons whose work has safety and health risks and limiting or controlling the use of any material produced by such a factory.
Sadly, owing to lack protective gear especially by some employees chiefly in the construction industry , as a last resort, some workers opt to consume opaque beer because of the belief that it will somehow prevent them from being susceptible to occupational diseases.
This trend is common among workers who come into contact with cement.
The desperation in trying to find a remedy of prevention from occupational diseases clearly entails that the safety of a worker is one thing that most employers overlook.
Employees are susceptible to developing diseases such as cancer, heart failure, respiratory conditions and hearing loss through work related chores.
According to the provisions of the Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Act No. 36 of 2010 and the Workers’ Compensation Act No. 10 of 1999, the promotion of health and safety at the workplace is cardinal.
Under Part III of the OHS Act, an employer of 10 or more persons at any workplace is mandated to establish a health & safety committee.
In addition, the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) has been mandated under Part III, section 11(3)-b of the Workers’ Compensation Act to foster the prevention of accidents or any diseases which are due to the nature of any occupation and the promotion of the health or safety of workers in order to prevent occupational diseases.
An occupational disease is an ailment that is proven to have a known link to a workers’ job.
This is caused by performing a particular job or occupation .In some industries, occupational disease may be more common due to the working conditions that are associated with the industry.
According to the Board, occupational disease claims may include hearing loss , tuberculosis , pneumoconiosis which is a lung disease contracted as a result of inhaling fine particles of dust in mining and quarry industries.
There are also instances where sometimes, an employee who is exposed to occupational diseases can lose his or her sight.
This can be a setback for employers who do not register their workforce with the WCFCB.
Fortunately for employers who have registered their employees with the Board in case of occupational diseases, the WCFCB after conducting a thorough investigation, they can determine whether or not someone has an occupational disease to claim compensation.
Outlining how the Board determines the claim , WCFCB head communication & customer services Maybin Nkholomba noted that an occupational disease claim may include confirming employment history from employers and obtaining relevant medical information from employers and obtaining relevant medical information from a physician.
‘’Based on this investigation, the WCFCB will determine the existence of the disease or condition. The Board will look at the nature and the circumstance surrounding the manner in which the disease or condition arose’’, Mr Nkholomba said.
He adds that the Board pay benefits for the disease if it is shown that the workplace was the main or dominant cause of the disease.
The WCFCB will then determine if the diseases is an occupational disease by applying the criteria in the Workers Compensation Act. Occupational disease claims are unique for reasons related to challenges the establishing workplace exposure.
“The WCFCB has well established procedures in place to thoroughly assesses each claim regardless of the complexity…The Board is capable of determining if one has an occupational disease claim if the exposure occurred years or decades earlier and the employer is out of business “, Mr Nkholomba explains.
He adds that helpful tips when filling an occupational disease claim includes obtaining accident and disease report can be obtained from the nearest Workers Compensation office which can be submitted three days of gaining the knowledge of the existence of the disease.
Thus in order to prevent occupational accidents and diseases, the Board next year launch a global campaign by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) dubbed ‘Vision Zero’ which is a strategy aimed at eliminating all fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.
The campaign was first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s and Vision Zero has proved successful across many European countries.
The ISSA which is headquartered in Geneva Switzerland is an international organization which brings together national social security and state administration agencies.
The ISSA promotes excellence in social security administration through professional guidelines, expert knowledge, services and support to enable its members to develop dynamic social security systems and policy throughout the world.
Founded in 1927 under the auspices of the International Labour Organization(ILO), the ISSA counts more than 330 member organizations in over 160 countries.