Marking the World Day for Safety and Health at Work 28 April 2019
Denmark and the EU are marking the World Day for Safety and Health at Work and using it to raise awareness of international standards for occupational safety and health, why it is important and what the EU’s own lessons in this field are. Safety and health at work are key at European workplaces and an important factor for European companies when assessing investment and market opportunities abroad, including in Myanmar.
Since 2013, the EU funded SMART Myanmar programme has provided recommendations to Myanmar factories to help strengthen their compliance with social standards and improve working conditions. It is in the area of health and safety where the bulk of the recommendations have been made. In many instances, improving health and safety in factories has contributed to expanding Myanmar’s export opportunities to the European Market. Furthermore, since 2016, Denmark has worked directly with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population and supported it in building its capacity in occupational safety and health (OSH), including through direct training of OSH inspectors by the Danish Working Environment Authority.
Occupational safety and health is important for the economic growth and development of Myanmar
To be able to ensure sustainable development and economic growth, it is important for Myanmar to build a culture and develop laws and rules, which guarantee occupational safety and health.
EU companies are sensitive to social compliance and reputational risks. This means that the extent to which OSH is addressed is an important factor for the companies when looking for new market oppor
tunities and for partners among local companies. Dangerous working conditions and the prevalence of prolonged, potentially violent and highly publicized industrial disputes which impact negatively on the business environment are determinants in this regard. The lack of a well-regulated and transparent labour market where occupational safety and health falls short of European and International standards can be a major barrier for attracting European companies to the Myanmar market.
Raising awareness of OSH in Myanmar
Since 2011, Myanmar has initiated a comprehensive reform process aimed at achieving a more democratic, market-based and socially equal society.
In this process, strengthening awareness of the importance of prioritizing occupational safety and health and at the same time preventing injuries, diseases and deaths is an important task. Here it is important to:
- Work with changing peoples’ approach to hazardous working conditions and teach workers the value of working safe, how to work safer and what their rights are when it comes to a safe working environment.
- Raise awareness at the workplaces and factories and help the leaders and managers understand the positive value it has for the company if they prioritize a healthier and safer working environment.
- Focus on developing and enforcing laws and regulations and ensuring that enforcement is designed to add pressure on companies to provide safe workplaces.
Companies and the government in Myanmar appear to be keen and interested in to take steps towards improving occupational safety and health. This has helped raise awareness of the importance of prioritizing a focus on health and safety at work.
Myanmar’s new Occupational Safety and Health Law
After many years in the making, the new Law on Occupational Safety and Health was adopted by the Parliament in March. The law shows that Myanmar is moving in the right direction.
Some of the positive effects of the new law are that more sectors and thereby more workplaces and workers will be covered by the new law, workplaces are required to form an OSH Committee, and a tripartite National OSH Council will be established.
The next important step will be to ensure an effective implementation and enforcement of the law. For this to be a success, implementing guidance needs to be developed to enable a successful implementation of the new law. Here it is also important that the government with the support from EU countries and the international community works with revising internal standards, operating procedures, templates and tools for planning, preparing, carrying out and following up on work place inspections. These efforts are all important in facilitating effective implementation of the enforcement of the new OHS law.
Cooperation between employers and workers
An important factor in keeping workplaces safe and healthy is that the company owners recognize the importance of close cooperation between employers and workers. Several factors are important and necessary in order to establish a positive culture around the cooperation between company management and employees.
The employers and employees need to know that they have different roles in regard to ensuring a healthy working environment. Employers have the main responsibility for making and keeping the workplace safe, however, employees also have a responsibility to participate in the work for safety. However, behavior, competence, collaboration, procedures and the physical environment are also important for building up a good OSH culture.
Barriers for Myanmar developing an OSH culture
Some of the challenges for Myanmar is that many companies often have few resources, heavy workloads and involve multiple tasks for the workers. Because of lack of awareness, lack of resources and understanding of the importance of protecting against hazardous work, employee often conduct their tasks in places where the environment does not always meets required standards.
In some cases with small or family owned companies, family members, such as children, pregnant women and elderly people are often exposed to hazardous working environment.
Today, the main challenges for occupational safety and health in the manufacturing industries are accidents and physical and chemical agents, while pesticides and organic dusts, heavy physical work, biological factors and accidents are the occupational burdens of agricultural workers. It is important for Myanmar to address these problems.
A long history and knowledge about OSH in EU and Denmark
The EU and Denmark has a long history in effective regulation of Occupational Safety and Health. It has been at the heart of the EU from the start with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. The major milestone for OSH in the EU was the publication of the first OSH Directive in 1989, which laid down common principles and placed risk assessment at the center of the EU’s legislation in the area.
Denmark has had an Act on worker protection since 1973 when a government authority - the Danish Working Environment Authority - was set up to supervise compliance with the Act.
Myanmar and Denmark’s collaboration on OSH
Since 2016, Denmark has worked directly with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population. The focus on the collaboration is to strengthen the capacity of the Factories and General Labour Laws Inspection Department (FGLLID) to implement and enforce OSH policy and legal framework in a transparent, uniform and effective manner, and to strengthen the capacity of the tripartite constituents to conduct constructive social dialogue.
Workers on a construction site in Yangon. Photo: EPA