The informal sector plays a crucial role in employment in Ghana. Presently, the sector accounts for majority of employment in the country with agriculture at the forefront. Other common vocations in the informal sector include; hairdressing, barbering, tailoring, carpentry, welding, spraying, painting, masonry and cobbling, to mention but a few.
Most people in the informal sector learn their trade by apprenticeship or by virtue of being born into it as a family legacy. A lapse, though with apprenticeship and the other forms of informal sector trainings in the country, is the inadequate and in most cases, absolute lack of sufficient information on the relevant occupational health and safety issues pertaining to the vocations.
For instance, most farmers do not know the safety measures to put in place, including the use of the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in administering agrochemicals and fertilisers. This results in contaminations and infections which usually are either unreported or go unnoticed as the remote cause of some illnesses. The case of artisans in the country is not different. Lack of knowledge of the dangers inherent in their jobs makes such workers ignore safety measures, including the wearing of PPE. A consequence is that most of these artisans develop occupational-related diseases over time, which renders them unproductive in later years. Sadly, these avoidable occupational diseases are usually attributed to evil spirits and other unrelated causes, as superstition still dominates the way of life, even of the educated elite in the country.
To ameliorate these challenges with regard to occupational health and safety delivery in the informal sector, most occupational health and safety experts in the country advocate a new legislation that will encompass the agricultural sector and other informal sectors of employment as the current Factories Offices and Shops Act, 1970 (Act 328) does not address some significant challenges of occupational health and safety delivery in the 21st century.
Granted, efforts to promulgate a new legislation on occupational health and safety, specifically a national safety policy, is laudable; but this alone may not necessarily be the panacea for addressing occupational health and safety issues in the country.
Resourcing the Department of Factories Inspectorate (DFI), the regulatory body for enforcing occupational health and safety issues at workplaces in the country, is vital in promoting safety delivery in the country. Its mandate should not be misconstrued with that of other quasi organisations such as the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
Currently, the department has less than 40 inspectors throughout the country and lacks the basic logistics to work effectively. There is an urgent need for the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations to retool the DFI to enable it to effectively deliver on its core duty – to promote occupational health and safety compliance at premises, including the workshops of artisans. Retention of part of the internally generated funds by the department as it pertains in other government departments and agencies will be an ingenious way of ensuring some basic logistics are procured to help in improving the quality of service offered. The onus of responsibility also lies with the DFI to come out with innovative measures that will help promote occupational health and safety delivery in the informal sector. This may include embarking on massive educational campaigns, especially on radio stations using the local dialects to reach out to relevant stakeholders. The department should also reach out to various artisan groups so that periodically, public lectures or open fora can be held for various artisan groups or associations to educate them on dangers inherent in their work and the preventive cum protective measures to be taken.
A safety talk segment can be made an integral part of graduation ceremonies for apprentices in the country.
The culture of being reactive only in times of adversity is a recipe for catastrophic industrial incidents in the near future if pragmatic measures are not taken in time. A stitch in time saves nine.