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Opinions of Sunday, 15 January 2017

Columnist: Akumah, Esenam

Mr. President, before the one-district, one-factory project takes off…

Mr. President,

A very Happy New Year to you and your team. I also congratulate you on becoming the leader of this nation. Mr. President, two weeks after you won the elections, I had the urge to write to you about one issue that has been on my heart for the past six years. My issue has to do with the Occupational Health and Safety regulations in Ghana. I took the time to read your manifesto and was happy to see that under Section XIX (c) on “Harmony in Industrial Relations” you mentioned that you would “work with employers and trade unions to formulate a policy of comprehensive occupational health and safety standards.” I am writing this letter to you because previous governments have been unable to treat this matter with the urgency with which they promised.

Your Excellency, ten years ago, while I was studying to become a Nurse at the University of Ghana at Legon, I was assigned to take the history of a patient who had come to the SSNIT Hospital at Osu for wound dressing. I started a conversation with this gentleman, an employee at a manufacturing plant on the Spintex road. As I asked him questions, I grew more and more interested in what had caused his wound. I got the insight that this gentleman had lost some fingers because of a defective machine at his workplace. The organization had not taken any further responsibility towards him other than merely paying for his medical upkeep with a promise that he will maintain his job after recovery. At that time, I felt this was quite an injustice to the poor worker. This gentleman’s quality of life will be affected, and his whole life will never again be the same. It was years later that I came to know that, many more organizations like that existed that did not exercise their duty of care towards employees.

Mr. President, when I was in London in 2010 for my MSc in Occupational Health and Safety Management, I read that Ghana was ready for commercial production of Oil. Knowing the risk level of this industry, I was hoping that a National Health and Safety Policy would become an issue of priority to government. Two years later, while pursuing a postgraduate diploma with the International Labour Organization (ILO), in Turin, Italy, I studied the labor laws in this nation, especially those associated with work-related health and safety. That was when I got information that a draft Health and Safety bill had been presented to the Ministry of Employment and Labour at least a decade earlier, for review and processing into law. I was quite expectant and hopeful that this draft bill would be passed into law to safeguard the occupational health and safety of people, especially Ghanaians in industry. We are in 2017, Sir, and the draft bill has still not been passed.
Mr. President, for three years, I worked on a government related health infrastructure development project across the length and breadth of this nation. Because of this job, I visited the Factories’ Inspectorate offices in the Greater Accra Region. I also went to the ones in the Western and Ashanti Regions. During those visits, it looked like some of these workers did not have much to do. They were under resourced, and I hardly saw any computer in some of their offices. The offices simply had no life. My question is, how long will this trend continue? I wonder what considerations regarding tooling and resourcing there are for them at the higher level in government. It is bewildering, you know, as there are thousands of infrastructure projects going on and springing up in this country. There are countless numbers of businesses in this country. Manufacturing firms are coming up by the day. The influx of imported goods in this nation is second to none. There are countless small scale restaurants and eateries, hotels, offices and many more. Roads are being constructed. Real estate is the new thing. Airports, filling stations, shops and all that. While there is immense desire and will from players in industry to uphold higher standards on Occupational Health and Safety, the legal framework from government is nonexistent. The question begs, Mr. President, when is your government going to see through the passing of a Health and Safety Bill for industry in Ghana?

You see, Sir, Health and Safety inures to the greater good of our society. It protects employers and their staff and even visitors to work places. Paying attention to Health and Safety, therefore, makes good business sense, and it is as important as any other vision you have for the transformation of business in Ghana. Mr. President, in your manifesto you promised to create an enabling environment for businesses and entrepreneurship. This direction will no doubt create many jobs. The context makes the need to put in place adequate legal framework and backing for Health and Safety to support these businesses and their workforces an unalienable imperative. A new paradigm in Health and Safety provides an excellent opportunity to train graduates in respective Health and Safety roles in the various regional and district offices, equip them with the right resources and send them out to the fields. This development will undoubtedly create more skilled employments and contribute enormously to your vision to create jobs.

One more important thing to note, Sir, is that I believe that the ILO is patiently waiting for us to ratify some Conventions that have been pending for so long. I have personally listed the ones that I think deserve the highest level of urgency. I believe that once we take that bold step, there will be support and guidance for implementation and enforcement from the ILO. Perhaps, if too much is required in passing the Draft OSH Bill, Sir, we could explore a deeper friendship with the ILO by ratifying existing conventions as a first step. We should start from somewhere as soon as practicable.
- C155 - Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155).
This is the key Convention which gives our Draft Policy the legal backing.
- C121 - Employment Injury Benefits Convention, 1964 [Schedule I amended in 1980] (No. 121).
This deals with the many casualties of work-related accidents.

- C161 - Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161).
We do need the backing of Occupational Health professionals in addressing the health aspects of work, and this will create a few more jobs in the health sector.

Mr. President, you know, among many other things in your manifesto, I quite look forward to the “One District One Factory Initiative” and “Managing Industrial Waste” under sections XII and XIV. I believe many jobs will be created through these. However, please don’t forget to establish the right occupational health and safety legal framework before the initiative sets off.

Perhaps, there shall be a part two of this letter, Sir, where I shall write my thoughts about the major accidents that have been occurring in this nation and how we can better approach it; the prevention of any such eventualities, the investigation committees and the most appropriate actions to take after their reports are released. Then again, it all comes back to the fact that inadequate laws and regulatory framework for implementation is the foundation of the problem.

Before I conclude, I must say kudos to those enterprises in the mining industry, oil and gas industry, construction, hospitality, facility management and telecommunications. In spite of the current circumstances surrounding Health and Safety, they have maintained international level OSH standards and have put a premium on the health, safety, and wellbeing of their workforce. They have set the pace and are helping other local enterprises have a fair understanding of Health and Safety as a key tool to successful business operations.

Your Excellency, thank you for taking time off to read my letter. More than anything else Sir, I look forward to a very reply from you. I pray that you will have good health and wisdom to carry out the task that Ghanaians have given to you. I also pray that your esteemed support staff will hold Ghana dear to their hearts and work hard as you do.

Do have a productive first 100 days in office and beyond!

Yours Sincerely,

Esenam Akumah.