OSHA: Spearheading workplace health, safety regulations

08Nov 2019
Bahati Hoza
The Guardian
OSHA: Spearheading workplace health, safety regulations

TANZANIA’S industrial sector has been cited as easily the leader in terms of the number of workplace accidents, incidents causing the government heavy losses in terms of payment of compensation to workers killed or injured.

OSHA acting CEO Khadija Mwenda addresses media practitioners at a recent one-day sensitisation seminar held in Dar es Salaam. File photo

Mostly, workplace accidents causing injuries and even deaths are a result of failure to observe safety measures, including ensuring the use of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

These eye-opening hints are from none other than Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) health manager Jerome Materu in remarks at a recent capacity building seminar for journalists held in Dar es Salaam.

He said the production sector has usually topped the list in causing losses to the government in terms of compensations paid to victims of work-related accidents, adding: “The country’s GDP is diminished by up to four per cent owing to compensation related to workplace accidents only.”

A major part of OSHA’s primary mandate is to ensure that workplaces are free from hazards that may cause death, injuries or illness.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 2003 stipulates, in part, that any company or individual owning or occupying a factory or any other workplace in Tanzania needs to obtain a Certificate of Compliance from the OSHA Chief Inspector before going into business.

This particular piece of legislation mandates OSHA to oversee and improve occupational health and safety practices for the well being of workers at factories and other workplaces in order to reduce accidents and occupational diseases.

It is noteworthy that the law covers workers in ALL sectors, notably agro-processing, the civil service, the industrial sector and the service sub-sector.

OSHA acting CEO Khadija Mwenda told the seminar participants that they are a government agency authorised to advise, supervise and maintain a conducive working environment for everyone in both formal and informal sectors of production.

She said the seminar was intended to raise awareness among media practitioners across the country and add to the knowledge and skills they have in the reporting of accidents.

The idea was also to identify the mileage OSHA has made in offering services across the country and its effectiveness in implementing safety and health enhancement procedures so as to minimise the impact of diseases and accidents, thus increasing productivity at workplaces.

Mwenda underlined the importance of conducting ‘fitness to work’ examination before, during and after employment, primarily as related to hazards pertaining to each particular work unit.

“The health and safety of workers in any country is a key factor for their well-being and necessary for improving productivity,” she said.

She elaborated: “It is therefore the responsibility of the government, employers and workers to ensure that all workspaces are safe and in a healthy state. To ensure that this happens, the government has put in place regulations to ensure that workers are protected from work hazards.”

The CEO reported that there were once concerns from stakeholders in the private sector regarding the duplicative and distortive charges imposed by different regulatory agencies with similar or overlapping roles.

She said that was the situation particularly before Dr John Magufuli assumed the country’s Presidency, adding: “The government has since that all charges and levies unnecessarily impeding the growth and development of the private sector be abolished forthwith – and this has been done.”.

The government is emphatic that all the respective hurdles must be addressed by bringing clarity in the regulatory regime in order to ensure that the entire private sector – be it micro, small or medium-scale entrepreneurs or large-scale producers – operates in a more friendly, transparent and predictable business environment.

It firmly believed that unless there is strategic reform in the current regulatory framework, the private sector will continue to face challenges including delays and general red-tape bureaucracy associated with having needlessly long business licensing/permit processes often serving as grounds for the thriving of corruption.

In order to effectively engage the private sector in transforming the economy through industrialisation, an enabling environment must be holistically and strategically reviewed, particularly as relates to the regulatory framework.

This calls for a root-to-roof review of policy and reforming regulatory agencies, streamlining and rationalising taxes and levies to ensure inclusive participation of the private sector, including smallholder farmers, SMEs and large businesses.

In line with the government’s blueprint, which is a framework for legal reforms chiefly meant to create a more friendly business environment, OSHA has scrapped five charges and fees to ease the conduct of business in the country.

The fees include workplace registration of up to 1.8m/- and registration fee of 2,000/-, the others being compliance fee of 200,000/- per year, health consultancy charges of 450/- per hour per expert plus penalty amounting to 500,000/-.

The OSHA Act of 2003 stresses the need for employers to put in place safe and healthy work conditions to guarantee the well-being of all workers as well as to maintain health of all those already affected – until they good enough health again to resume duties.

It is further stressed that it is every employer’s obligation to maintain a feasible system of conducting business without compromising the health of his or her employees.

CEO Mwenda also reported that, thanks to government funding, they have conducted a number of training sessions for women entrepreneurs working in the previously popular but now “rather fading” batik fabrics business. The idea is to sensitise them on the health and other hazards relating their activities so that they make take appropriate measures to improve their working conditions.

Mwenda said OSHA is faced with a number of challenges, among the major ones being low awareness among the public on the authority’s mandate and employers’ unwillingness to comply with regulations and procedures. But she was upbeat that “with support from the media, there will gradually be a let-up in this challenging situation” in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.