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World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2020
Tuesday, 28 April 2020 09:46




The theme for World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2020

image008The celebration of the 2020 World Day for Safety and Health at Work is like no other since its start by the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO) decades ago. Today, we celebrate this event, which has come as nations worldwide are waging a battle against an unseen force, the deadly Coronavirus or COVID-19, whose infectious sting has caused the deaths of thousands of workers and their families in every corner of the globe.

For Barbados, it also coincides with the recognition of our national heroes, of which at least five have played a significant role in the trade union and labour movement in this country and the first for social justice, namely the Right Excellent Charles Duncan O’neal, the Right Excellent Clement Osbourne Payne, the Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams, the Right Excellent Sir Hugh Springer, and the Right Excellent Sir Frank Walcott.

The havoc being wreaked by COVID-19 for which no vaccine has yet been found has forced “lockdowns” in every nation and has resulted in deep slumps in the global economy, as a consequence of the closure of commerce and industry, the slow grind of trade, and the non-existence of travel.

Recognising the great challenge that governments, employers, workers and whole societies are facing worldwide to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work will focus on addressing the outbreak of infectious diseases at work, centering on the COVID-19 pandemic. These are the words of the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.

His message noted the growing concern over the continuing rise in COVID-19 infections in some parts of the world and the ability to sustain declining rates in others, as well as the enormous challenges faced globally as Governments, employers, workers and their organisations try to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and protect safety and health at work. Beyond the immediate crisis, there are also concerns about resuming activity in a manner that sustains the progress made to date in suppressing transmission.

The aim of this year’s celebration under the theme “Stop the pandemic: Safety and Health at work can save lives,” is to stimulate national tripartite dialogue. The ILO is using this day to raise awareness on the adoption of safe practices in workplaces and the role that occupational safety and health (OSH) services play. It will also focus on the medium to long-term, including recovery and future preparedness, integrating measures into OSH management systems and policies at the national and enterprise levels.

The ILO Director-General stated, “We need special measures to protect the millions of health care workers and other workers who risk their own health for us every day.”

He continued, “Teleworking offers new opportunities for workers to keep working, however, workers must be able to negotiate these arrangements so that they retain balance with other responsibilities, such as caring for children, the sick or the elderly, and of course themselves.”

Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean are no exceptions to occurrences such as the human suffering, and the long and winding queues which we have witnessed on television in rich and poor cities alike.

The celebration of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work is timely and fortuitous as it provides us in Barbados: (a) with the opportunity to gauge the weaknesses in our health system, social security and social protection systems; and (b) ways by which we can seek to make improvements to our system.

While there is no way that mortal minds can predict or prophesy if and when we may be struck by another pandemic, our planning for such future eventualities is paramount. We believe that among other things, issues such as ongoing health research at the local and regional levels, appropriate gear and equipment, staffing and their training are key.

Senator Toni Moore, General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) said, “We at the BWU are also of the view that our planning regarding safety and health at work must be holistic in design. It is imperative that we in Barbados begin to integrate all of the safety and health issues that affect the working man and woman and their families. While industrial safety and health is of import in the workplace, we must broaden the scope to include and address mental health, non-communicable diseases, and environmental health, like vector control. Hygiene standards must also continue to be promoted by all in the workplace. Its significance has borne importance in the current pandemic.” 

It is for that reason that we propose that the National Workplace Wellness Policy for Barbados, which has been adopted by the Cabinet of Barbados, and is chaired by the Ministry of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, should be re-examined to form a master plan for health, safety and wellness for Barbados.

The Executive Council of the Barbados Workers’ Union is calling on stakeholders to take this period in which the state of emergency and curfew have been instituted, to prepare for the reentry of workers to their respective workplaces, most of which have been closed for a number of weeks. We are insisting that employers carry out risk assessment to ensure that worksites - offices, factories and wherever work is carried out – are safe and healthy. We are calling for the cleaning of all offices and factories to rid them of vectors, the inspection of air-conditioned units to ensure clean indoor air, the maintenance of tools, machinery and automobiles, and counselling for staff where this is necessary. 


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