Ghana currently has no Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) policy. Existing pieces of legislation providing for the safety, health and well-being of persons at work are outmoded, splintered, overlapping, scattered and under the jurisdictions of different ministries, departments and agencies.
The pieces of legislation include the Factories, Offices and Shops Act 1970, (ACT 328), the Mining Regulations 1970, (LI 665), the Radiation Protection Instrument 1993, (LI 1559), and the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1987(PNDC 187).
Most of these legal provisions for OSH are limited in scope as vast majority of industries, including agriculture and most of the informal sectors, are not specifically covered. This makes it more difficult for employers to comply with laws and further add to the discretionary powers of inspectors.
Several reports have also identified some OSH challenges in Ghana. These include weak government regulatory machinery, poor infrastructure, untrained and inadequate OHS professionals, inadequate funding, lack of proper monitoring and surveillances for OSH diseases and injuries. The situation is further exacerbated by the absence of comprehensive and reliable OSH data in Ghana which detracts from the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of preventive interventions and the effective utilisation of scarce resources.
As a result of these deficiencies and gaps, the Ghana Employers’ Association with support from the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge fund (BUSAC Fund) developed a manual for a voluntary compliance programme on OSH. The manual sought to give guidance to employers to voluntarily address OSH inadequacies at the workplace and not to wait for intervention by inspectors.
It is expected that a national OSH policy will help provide safer working environments and also help improve workers’ morale and productivity. By pursuing good OHS practices, businesses face fewer workplace injuries and benefit from higher employee retention rates and enhanced corporate image.
Objective and scope
The objective of the national OSH policy is to create a general framework for the promotion and improvement of occupational safety, health protection and employee well-being. The main principles of a national OSH policy are generally premised on the fact that hazards can be foreseen and that accidents associated with hazards can be prevented.
It is expected that the national OSH Policy framework will comprise general principles which will include the elimination or minimisation of hazards and reduction of risk factors, effective information systems for consultation through the tripartite and bipartite social dialogue at the state and enterprise levels, among others.
It is expected that the policy will cover all employers, all workers in all sectors of economic activity regardless of number of workers and occupations, designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of industrial machinery, equipment and substances and the safety and health at work.
It will also cover the conditions of the employment relationship, the physical and psychological well-being of employees and a functional OSH management and organisation.
Roles and responsibilities
The overall responsibility for ensuring the implementation of this policy rests with the government, represented by the ministry responsible for labour matters. The ministry responsible for labour will in collaboration with government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) whose mandates have a bearing on OSH and the representatives of employers’ and workers’ organisations set up the National Authority on OSH.
The ministry has to ensure the efficient functioning of the anticipated authority on occupational safety and health and have oversight responsibility over all issues of occupational safety and health in Ghana.
The ministry has to ensure the establishment of laws and regulations in consultation with the social partners to give effect to the national policy.
Responsibilities and rights of workers
An effective culture of prevention requires that employees work safely. They are obliged to co-operate to ensure compliance with any existing OSH legislation. Effective worker participation can contribute significantly to improved OSH performance. This participation must occur within a structure in which legislation guarantees workers their basic rights: the right to know, the right to be trained and the right to withdraw from situations of danger. Legislation must entrench protection from victimisation or discrimination for exercising these rights.
Hence, employees must take reasonable care to safeguard their own health and safety and that of co-workers and visitors, use all provided protective equipment and appliances as instructed by the employer and report situations that present OSH risks to their supervisors and to suggest solution (s) if possible.
Employees must have the right to participate in OSH activities through their election as health and safety representatives/OSH Committee members and also have the right to information and training about the hazards associated with the workplace and the mode of avoidance of the identified hazards. Additionally, they should be able to isolate themselves from work conditions that pose dire and imminent danger to their health and/or safety.
The workplace conditions are primarily created by the employer who, therefore, has prime responsibility for ensuring health and safety. Employers will be required among others as far as reasonably practicable, to ensure that their facilities are designed, constructed, equipped, commissioned, staffed, operated, maintained and decommissioned in a manner protective of health and safety of employees and the general public.
They are also expected to identify, assess and control hazards in the workplace with a continuing obligation to improve OSH performance. Employers must implement and practise best OSH precautions unless they can demonstrate that any additional cost is absolutely disproportionate to the residual risk.
Additionally, employers should develop a workplace ‘OSH Management Plan’ to guide OSH activities of their undertakings and also provide and maintain adequate supplies of health and safety equipment at no cost to employees.
In the area of risk assessment, they should establish a system of risk assessment in sectors designated (by the authority) as posing risks to health. Risk assessments shall be carried out annually or as directed by the authority, and/or when processes or substances change or new ones are introduced.
National OSH Authority
Currently, no institution has overall responsibility for the implementation of OSH policy and legislation in Ghana. The policy proposes the establishment of a single national authority with responsibility for implementing an overall integrated safety and health policy.
It is expected that Cabinet and Parliament will establish the National OSH authority as an organ of state located within the national public administration but outside of the Civil Service and will be given the requisite funding and logistics to enable it to operate effectively.
The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Employers Association.