More than 100 workers are subject to occupational accidents each year, based upon a survey conducted at factories, workshops and stores, in accordance with the Factories Act 1951. This figure excludes accidents in other workplace locations.
According to a report based upon the Myanmar Labour Force Survey 2015, the country has a labour force of 44.8 million people, more than 51.7 per cent of which is working in the agriculture industry. The industrial sector accounts for 16.8 per cent of all workers, while 31.5 per cent are engaged in the service sector. If those sectors are included in the survey, the rate of occupational accidents and deaths rises higher.
Global estimates of occupational accidents and work related diseases, issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO), claims that a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease every 15 seconds, at a rate of an estimated 2.3 million lives per year. It also claims that some 317 million workers suffer from accidents. This announcement also points out that a lack of occupational safety leads to a nation’s 4 per cent loss in GDP. In Myanmar, there were overall 156 cases of work-related accidents from 1st January 2017 to 3rd December 2017, with 49 minor cases, 82 serious accidents and 25 fatal cases, according to a table of work-related accidents.
The Factories Act 1951 was amended in 2016, however, the new law fails to cover occupational safety in every workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Law (draft) submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hlutttaw in February 2017 is now in the hands of the Bill Committee of Pyithu Hluttaw. After this law is instituted, OSH activities will be obligatory for all employers. U Nyunt Win, director-general of the Factories and General Laws Inspection Department, said that prior to enactment of the OSH bill, educational campaigns regarding occupational safety were conducted at factories and workplaces, in cooperation with ILO.
“The OSH law, which is soon to be developed, is regarded as an umbrella law. The formation of the OSH committee and assignments are embodied in this bill. It highlights the joint agreement between employers and employees. Procedures for formation of safety committees and inspections to identify safety and health hazards and training in the workplace are incorporated into this bill”, he noted.
At present, employers and workers usually agree to mutual understandings about compensation following occupational accidents. Cases requiring action under the underlying laws are seldom seen.
Employers are reluctant to execute OSH activities due to weaknesses in the law and regulations, along with the high cost of OSH activities, U Nyunt Win said.
“Employers have little interest in the Occupational Safety and Health process. Most of them are concerned over high costs, and those activities are virtually meaningless to them. We can even count on the fingers of hands number of businesses which practice OSH system”, said Director-general U Nyunt Win.
Weak OSH processes, a lack of leadership, a minimum budget to carry out the OSH process, workers who have little knowledge about OSH, and workplaces in far-flung areas in which labour inspectors cannot easily reach, are contributing factors to the high rate of work-related diseases and accidents, said U Kyaw Kyaw Tun, deputy director of the Factory and General Labour Law Inspection Department.
OSH requirements include having a proper working environment with specific lighting, protective measures to guard against chemical and toxic hazards, electrical safety and workstation ergonomic designs. Additionally, purchasing safe machines, using safe feeding and ejection devices, placing guards around dangerous parts and regular maintenance, are a must to ensure safety around machines.
Occupational safety does not count solely on the leaders and employers. U Naw Aung, deputy chairman of Myanmar Industries Craft and Services Trade Unions Federation (MICF), stressed flaws found in both the government and employees.
Regarding occupational safety and healthy activities, the government’s law enforcement is also weak. Employers need to create a happy work environment for workers by providing necessary facilities to assure occupational safety, he noted. Workers also need to avoid careless actions, such as working without wearing gloves, masks, safety boots, and more. Workers need to recognize the risks of possible work-related accidents and diseases.
“The government’s supervision and law enforcement is the most critical thing. All those stakeholders who are links in the chain of events show weaknesses”, he continued.
SMEs and garment industries, which form the basis of Cutting, Making and Packaging systems, have a strong labour force which must adopt OSH processes, said U Aye Thaung, chairman of the Shwe Lin Pan Industrial Zone. OSH related certificates are required for CMP based garment factories linked with Europe, the USA and Japan, and so they hire doctors and nurses in the workplace. The government requires creating educational campaigns about OSH, and providing subsidies for carrying out the OSH processes.
“Prevention measures are needed to prevent accidents. If the government cannot provide financial assistance to small enterprises which cannot afford to carry out OSH activities, they should link with organizations for funds”, said U Aye Thaung.
Dr Khin Maung Lwin, Managing director of Fame Pharmaceuticals, who has been recognized by ASEAN for carrying out OSH activities in the workplace, points out that quality management systems, environmental management systems and occupational safety and health systems must work in harmony to have a successful business.
“Those employers that put in place OSH systems gain considerable prestige”, he noted.
Carrying out OSH activities is likely to reduce medical leaves, prevent risks of fires, create a proper workplace and build good relation between employers and employees. Therefore, businesses following OSH system can save more money in the long term and promote businesses’ reputation, said Dr. Khin Maung Lwin.
In 1972, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (Central) adjudicated the working functions at factories, forming sub-committees. After 1988, this committee was dissolved. There are now stacks of occupational accident records at the Social Security Board and the Factory and General Labour Law Inspection Department under the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, as well as related departments under the Ministry of Health and Sports, said Dr Than Htut, retired deputy director (Occupational Health) of the Ministry of Health and Sports.
“The lack of occupational safety causes disabilities and even fatalities. The workplace must have occupational safety measures and related educational events for their workers. It also needs to support training, when it is required”, he added.
Occupational safety is compulsory for the workplace, due to changing working conditions, and in line with introduction of new technologies, said OSH trainers.
“OSH is a right of workers, and its use creates prestige for employers. OSH activities might seem like a burden on employers, but they will reap benefits to the state, employers and workers, in the long term. Thus, all-around cooperation is required by the state, employers, employees and social welfare organizations, said U Ohn Myint, patron and advisor of the Wisdom World Company, which provides OSH training.
Poor human resources and financial conditions in Myanmar results in a rising toll of work-related accidents and diseases in SMEs, which remain the driving force of Myanmar’s economy. As a consequence of this, accidents can harm productivity rates and it can also affect the country’s economic growth, somehow.
By May Thet Hnin