Health and safety at the workplace must be an issue of concern to all. Health and safety are concerned with promoting the welfare and wellbeing of people at a place as well as preventing illness and injuries. Every work has its own occupational hazards.
Occupational hazards are risks of illnesses or accidents experienced by workers in their places of work. Sometimes, some employers and employees may overlook health and safety issues. Ensuring a healthy and safe environment promotes good business. Any workplace that neglects health and safety issues can face prosecution, lose staff, or may increase costs and reduce profitability.
The “Part 15” of the Ghana Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651) touches on occupational health and safety environment, indicating the need for both employers and employees to adhere and manage health and safety issues at the workplace. Section 118(1) of the Labour Act 2003 states that “it is the duty of an employer to ensure that every worker employed by him or her works under satisfactory, safe and health conditions”. Also, Section 118(2)(d) of the Act states that the employer should “take steps to prevent contamination of the work places, and protect workers from toxic gases, obnoxious substances, vapour, dust, fumes, mists and other substances or materials likely to cause risk to safety or health”. This brings to the fore that health and safety at workplaces—which include book production houses—is not just necessary, but also obligatory.
A publishing business cannot afford delays in production. Customers or clients require accuracy, quality, and timeliness in job delivery. Any delay can threaten the timelines of the production of books. Speed, quality, and accuracy make a publishing and printing company efficient. Hence, any injury, falling, mishandling, and explosions may lead to delays in productions, meeting of timelines, or even loss of clients.
It is therefore very essential for employers or management to put in place plans and strategies to manage health and safety issues at the workplace. Management should put in writing the plans in a form of a health and safety policy statement, and strictly ensure the implementation and adherence to it.
In the book publishing and printing business, some staff do tasks—such as using equipment, machinery (especially guillotine - also known as paper cutter, is a machine for cutting or trimming stack of paper or books at the printing house), working at a height, and use of chemicals—that expose them to risks.
In book production, some workers are exposed to some toxic chemicals such as the developer used for developing film and printing plates. Also, disposal of chemicals used in book production, when not done right endangers the health of workers or the community as a whole. Before developing film or plate for printing, they are exposed to sensitive UV lights. This highly sensitive light can cause damage to the eye when not protected.
Also, inhaling petrol used for cleaning and washing plate cylinders and ink duct is detrimental to one’s health if not well protected. The emission of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) found in printing inks, adhesives and some other chemicals are also hazardous. Again, when extra caution is not taken, the guillotine for cutting paper can cause some serious injury to anyone operating the machine.
There are some other activities that can cause injury in the book production business when care is not taken. Therefore, management of any publishing or printing business should ensure that measures are put in place to protect employees from being harmed when executing their tasks.
There are ways employers can prevent contamination of the workplace and protect workers; that is, by providing safety signs and safety equipment or tools. Safety signs are the information or instructions directing or informing people about potential hazards and dangers in an area or a place. They are information or instruction about safety and health on signboards, a safety colour, an illuminated sign or acoustic signal, a non-verbal communication or hand signal. Safety signs take a variety of forms and functions, but can be best classified by their primary use. It is the responsibility of management of any publishing or printing house to educate employees on safety signs and instructions.
To minimize the risk of injuries at the book production houses, there is the need to put on safety equipment. Safety equipment, also known as personal protective equipment (PPE), are gadgets or kits which are used to augment other means of hazard control, and to further minimize the risk of injuries. PPEs can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protectors, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear, etc.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an organisation that sets and enforces standards governing health and safety practices at workplaces in USA, recommends ten (10) types of safety signs to be used by all industries. These safety signs are danger signs, warning signs, caution signs, biological hazards sign, notice signs, general safety signs, fire safety signs, admittance sign, safety symbols, surround shapes. To manage the health and safety issues in the book production businesses, managements are advised to adopt the use of these safety signs at the workplaces.
In Ghana, the Department of Factories Inspectorate, under the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relation, is mandated to promote measures, and enforce those measures that safeguard the health and safety of workers employed in a workplace. This organisation uses the provisions of the Factories, Offices and Shops Act, 1970 (Act 328) and its related regulations as the basis of its operation.
Workers or employees in the book production business also have a part to play in ensuring their health and safety in their various workplaces. The Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) Section 118(3) states that “It is the obligation of every worker to use the safety appliances, firefighting equipment and personal protective equipment provided by the employer in compliance with the employer’s instructions.”
This means that it is important for workers to involve themselves in managing health and safety issues. Workers in the book industry must safely act in accordance with the prescribed instructions which protect them from injuries. Section 119(1) of the Labour Act 2003 also indicates that, should an employee of any business find himself or herself in any situation that endangers his or her life or jeopardises health and safety, he or she should, as a matter of urgency, report to his or her employer or supervisor.
Even as the country is faced with the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), employers and employees in book production businesses must be on guard and observe all the prescribed precautionary protocols, in order to safeguard themselves, to prevent the contracting and spread of the virus at their various workplaces.
In conclusion, health and safety must be an issue of concern to all industries in order to promote the wellness of both employers and employees. Health and safety issues at the workplace should not be taken for granted. It is advisable to adhere to all the precautionary measures at various places of work, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The involvement of all staff within a business can help curb accidents and other health and safety threats.
Kofi Asante Twumasi
Production Services Manager
Ghana Book Development Council