A Call To Action: Occupational Health And Safety (OHS)
Can you imagine a family member or a breadwinner spending several years to add value to him/herself to become employable only to go to work one day in his/her bid to serve humanity and contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of his country, only to come back home with life-threatening disease or deformity or at worst die in the course of duty without any fault of his or hers? That is the bane of the working population in Ghana and to the larger extend 270million and 160million worldwide who suffer from Occupational Accidents and Occupational Diseases respectively. It is evidently clear that a lot of health workers have lost their lives through HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, and more specially during outbreaks like Ebola, SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 among others due to their quest and passion to save humanity. A 6-month study of needle pricks among Junior doctors in Uganda and South Africa found that 44-55% and 91% suffered needle prick respectively (MoH, & GHS, 2010).
Ghana currently does not have a comprehensive Occupational Health and Safety Policy to deal with occupational/work-related illness, occupational diseases, occupational accidents and injuries, near misses etc, this is causing unimaginable apathy, fear and panic among the front line health workers in Ghana especially with the outbreak of the COVID-19, the question is what happens if I contract the disease in my line of duty, is there any insurance for my dependants?. Even though the country lacks a comprehensive policy on OHS, there are snippets of it scattered in several laws such as Civil Liability Act of 1963, Factories, Offices and Shops Act of 1970, Workmen's Compensation Act of 1987, Labor Act of 2003, Disability Act of 2006, Mining Regulations 1970 (LI 665), Environmental Protection Agency Act of 1994, Ghana Health Service and Teaching Hospitals Act of 1996, Ghana Aids Commission Act of 2002 among others, the average worker is ignorant about these laws (due to low education), and for that matter cannot assert their rights under these laws.
The Labor Act which is basically the "Bible" of all workers in Ghana has explicit provisions that protect women, especially pregnant and lactating women at Part V of the Act, the Act also specifically talks about general Occupational Health and Safety and Environment in Part XV (section 118 to 121) including mandatory provision of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to workers, and how employers are supposed to make the work Environment conducive for the employees. Interestingly, the Part XV of the act was adopted from two (2) key International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions: convention 155 (Occupational Health and Safety and Environment), and convention 161 (Occupational Health Service), however these conventions surprisingly have not been ratified by parliament since 1981 and 1985 respectively making the Labor Act hollow and bringing into question the government's commitment to OHS.
Labor Act of 2003 in it's Part XV, specifically section 119 urges workers to avoid any hazardous work environment and abstain from work after duly reporting the hazardous situation to his/her superiors. It further encourages workers to stay home until the hazardous situation is resolved (eliminated or substituted), during which the employer cannot victimize the employee by way of stopping his salary or any other victimization in any form or shape. The Workmen's Compensation Act entitles an employee to be duly compensated in case of temporary or permanent injuries or death in line with the 3rd schedule of the Act. Permanent incapacitation (100%) attracts a paltry 96months of his/her monthly salary as compensation and a percentage of the 96months salary for temporary injury in accordance with the 3rd schedule of the Act. A spouse or next of kin of a worker who passes away in the course of his/her duty is entitled to a compensation of 60months of his/her monthly salary.
Ghana Health Service together with Ministry of Health drafted Occupational Health and Safety Policy for the Health Sector in 2010, this document although not comprehensive, is also unavailable for staff, and has also not been implemented whatsoever, the policy recommends medical examinations (pre-employment, Periodic, Post sick, and Exit), it authorizes the drafting of safety policies by all health facilities, organization of emergency simulation exercises at least every six months, yet nothing is seen or practiced at all in almost all facilities across the country. The four funding sources (National Health Issuance, endowment fund, Group insurance and the workmen's compensation Act) identified by the policy has never been operationalized. Of grave concern is the immunization of personnel against some infectious diseases like Hepatitis B.
In conclusion, I urge the government to show commitment to OHS by ratifying ILO convention 155 and 161 through parliament, consolidation of all the various laws on OHS into one Act, and intensification of education on that Act. I urge the Ministry of Health to as a matter of urgency institute a compensatory package for all health workers especially those at the forefront of the COVID-19 to boost their morale and encourage them to give off their best as well as immediate implementation of the 2010 Health Sector OHS policy. Labor unions should as matter of urgency prioritize the Health and Safety of their people and impress on the government to show commitment and seriousness with regards to OHS.
Veep, Oral Health Professional Association of Ghana (OHPAG)
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