Workplace safety in need of update

The scaffolding gave way on June 20 at a Mandalay hotel construction site, killing two workers and injuring another 18 people. Pictures of the incident were shared widely on social media, instigating concern over safety at construction sites.

Yet such accidents are relatively common at construction sites across the country. Officials and experts say much of the regulatory framework behind workplace safety is outdated and in need of an upgrade.

Adherence to safety standards varies considerably from site to site.

“In the past, people did not have any awareness about safety standards at the workplace,” said U Aung Koe, a safety officer and trainer with Global Enchanting Education Centre. “Safer practices are gradually spreading among business owners and workers, but there is no specific law that everyone follows. Until there is a law, there will be continuous workplace accidents.”

Current rules on safe workplaces largely hinge on the 1951 Factory Act. The ministries of labour and of construction have been working on a draft “Health and Safety in the Workplace” law since 2012, but it has not yet been submitted to parliament.

Experts say the accident at the future Mandalay Pullman Hotel highlights the need to move the law forward.

“There is no dedicated organisation for this, and no records for statistics,” said U Aung Koe. “If there are statistics on worker accidents, it can assist with reducing accidents in the country.”

U Aung Koe pointed to Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower as an organisation that takes comprehensive statistics on workplace safety. With the data in hand, it can then look at ways to make workplaces safer.

Industry bodies look to improve data collection.

The Myanmar Engineering Society plans to organise a group to record statistics on worker accidents, according to vice president Daw Si Si Than.

“There isn’t an organisation taking comprehensive records at the moment, but the engineering society is planning to organise a safety group to do that in the future,” she said.

The Myanmar Engineering Society has put together seminars and workshops on safety for both developers and workers, though it can be difficult without separate safety laws.

“Workplace safety here very much depends on developers and contractors, and the workers,” she said. “When there is no law to enforce and no records about destruction caused by accidents, people are unwilling to become interested in safety.”

U Aung Ko said safety imposes more costs on developers who follow better practices, which the more thrifty developers will try to avoid. Developers genuinely do not want accidents, but at the same time they do not want to take on more costs.

Some companies simply compensate workers out of pocket as accidents occur. U Aung Koe said that developers should realise that if they lower accidents, they will lower these payments.

“This is the reason there must be rules and regulations that are followed, so that there are no workplace accidents,” he said. “Safety depends primarily on business owners.”

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Construction said they have paused work on the draft of the health and safety law since 2012, though are still keen on it to come out in the future.

U Soe Win Sein, director of the Ministry of Labour’s Factories General Labour Laws Inspection Department, said the 1951 Factories Act does not cover all workers in all workplaces.

Under the current rules, it does keep some statistics, but they are not comprehensive. Instead, they largely cover for instance different government departments.

Construction is one industry that is not covered by the act, he said. “That’s why we have been drawing up a comprehensive health and safety in the workplace law,” said U Soe Win Sein. “Now the law is at the drafting stage, and the ministry will keep working according to its procedures to have it come out.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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