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Malawi National OSH Programme 2011—16: A comprehensive review


World Safety Day falls on April 28 and, this year, the theme is ‘Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Vulnerability of Young Workers’.

The first sub-theme of my contributions towards the theme and OSH management in Malawi is a theoretical review of the just ended Malawi National Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Programme for the period 2011-16.

But before we delve into the appraisal, it is relevant to give faithful readers and followers a brief background of OSH management and OSH national programmes.

OSH is an area concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of workers.

The goals of OSH programmes include fostering a safe and healthy work environment. It is a multi-faceted discipline concerned with, inter alia: the protection and promotion of workers health by preventing and controlling occupational diseases and accidents; the development and promotion of healthy and safe work, work environments and work organisations; enhancement of physical, mental and social well-being of workers and; enabling workers to conduct socially and economically productive lives, and; to contribute positively to sustainable development.

Owing to high incidences of occupational accidents and illnesses, in health, construction, transport, mining, agriculture and manufacturing sectors, governments and states formulate national OSH programmes to guide a coordinated approach in addressing OSH challenges.

These programmes are designed in line with national policies and laws guiding the activities of OSH and are expected to serve as stimuli for the high levels of implementation of safety and health management practices among organisations.

Many voices claim the significance of OSH national programmes in addressing poor safety performance. Examples of successful OSH national programmes are those implemented by Vietnamese and United Kingdom’s (UK) governments.

The the impacts attributed to 2006-10 Vietnamese OSH programme include reduction in the number of new cases of occupational diseases by 6 percent, provision of rehabilitation services and healthcare to 100 percent of victims of OSH and provision of training to 73 percent of workers in sectors with requirements on safety and health, among other things.

Similarly, the improvements in safety performance in UK have been partly attributed to ‘Revitalising Health and Safety’ (RHS), a UK national OSH programme for the period 2000-10.

Realising the importance of OSH national programmes in addressing OSH challenges, Malawi National OSH Programme 2011-2016 was launched in 2011.

This was partly inspired by International Labour Organisation OSH profile for Malawi which revealed inadequacies in OSH management in the country.

The overarching aim of the programme was to guide interventions in administering OSH services with the aim of achieving zero accidents and diseases in the country.

In absence of the evaluation report of the impact of the programme, we intend to undertake a theoretical review of the programme and assess its ability to improve OSH management in Malawi for achieving zero accidents and disease rates.

Inadequacy in objectives of the national programmes for achieving a zero occupational accidents and diseases

Malawi OSH national programme has five specific objectives. These include: addressing challenges in OSH management systems and infrastructure; strengthening legal framework; improving dissemination of OSH information; promoting national preventative culture and; mainstreaming HIV and Aids and occupational TB issues.

These objectives were designed to help achieve zero occupational accident and disease rates in the country, which is the overarching aim of the programme.

However, what progress towards achieving vision zero is likely to be achieved from the objectives? Literature has it that achieving a zero prevention goal would require objectives with targets focusing on reduction of frequency rates of fatal accidents in most perilous sectors of the economy such as mining, construction, health, agriculture and chemical production sectors.

Achieving vision zero in safety and health needs an increase in medical units providing periodical medical check-ups for workers, an increase in the average number of small enterprises which apply OSH management systems annually, provision of OSH training to an increased number of workers, especially those in hazardous sectors.

It is also stated that dissemination of appropriate OSH information to craftsmen, cooperatives and small and medium enterprises, provision of adequate health care and rehabilitation services and reporting and investigating accidents in compliance with the laws are objectives which can effectively contribute to realising zero OSH accidents and diseases. As can be seen, the objectives of Malawi National OSH Programme are to the contrary.

Additionally, very broad, undefined and non-measurable objectives would tend to make OSH executing agencies lose direction and focus on what intends to be achieved. Looking at objective three of Malawi OSH programme, one would tend to feel the gaps in terms of the sectors to be covered, whom the dissemination is focused on the sectors, how many workers are targeted, what would be intended executing period etc.

Perhaps it would have sounded much better if the objective was specific. What will the goal accomplish and how and why will it be accomplished.

It also has to be measurable. How will you measure whether or not the goal has been reached?

It also has to be attainable.

Again, one has to ask: Is it possible? Have others done it successfully?

Additionally, it has to be results-focused: What is the result of the result?

Not only that, it also has to be time-bound.

Other questions to ask are what is the established completion date? Does it create a sense of urgency?

Maybe objective three could have read: annually, provide OSH training to an average of 30,000 workers in strict OSH requirements; to 15,000 workers in hazardous occupations and to 35,000 OSH inspectors and officials in OSH management. Does it sound SMART?

The argument being advanced here, in terms of the approach to designing objectives of a national programme, would ensure that vital OSH areas which would culminate in achieving a zero OSH vision are taken aboard.

Otherwise, parading a one-size fits all kind of national programme is ineffective, considering the varied nature of activities/works and business undertakings and various sectors.

Additionally, critical objectives which needed incorporation in the programme include the need to ratify OSH conventions such as C155 and C161 of International Labour Organisation OSH conventions.

Intuitively, ratification of such conventions advances promotion of OSH management by placing legal obligations on the member states at international level to comply regardless of inadequacies in their domestic law.

*Wakisa T. Simukonda (MSc CPM, BSc QS, MSIM, SCIOB) is a lecturer, Department of Land Economy & Quantity Surveying, Faculty of Built Environment at The Polytechnic, University of Malawi.

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