By Byron Mutingwende
Sustainable development becomes responsible if it is embroiled with prevention of occupational safety and health risks, Dr, Sekai Nzenza, the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare has said.
In a speech read on her behalf by Minister of State in Vice President Kembo Mohadi’s Office, Mr Davis Marapira during the official opening of the Safety and Health at Work (SHAW) Conference in Harare on 4 October 2018, Dr Nzenza said the safety and health campaign will bolster government’s thrust to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Number 8.8 that focuses on the protection of labour rights and promotion of safe working environment for all workers.
The National Social Security Authority (NSSA) and the Zimbabwe Occupational Safety and Health Council (ZOSHC) is spearheading the country’s agenda for Vision Zero in tandem with the global campaign that is being championed by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
“It is important to appreciate that the new paradigm of thinking the world over is that sustainable development becomes responsible if it is embroiled with prevention of occupational safety and health risks. As human beings are at the centre of the concept of sustainable development, industry practitioners and policymakers should explore strategies on how to harness the potential of OSH in promoting sustainability,” Dr Nzenza said.
Mrs Daphne Tomana, in a speech read on her behalf, said the conference running under the theme “Vision Zero: Safety, Health and Wellbeing” was a recognition of the need to develop effective occupational safety and health management systems, to effectively control and manage workplace hazards that result in occupational accidents and diseases.
“NSSA is committed to implementing Vison Zero and other strategies, with the intention of bringing to an end the numerous occupational accidents and fatalities in our different work environments. I urge you to explore ways of ensuring that as a country we can attain Vision Zero as expressed in the Conference objectives,” Mrs Tomana said.
In his solidarity speech at the conference, Mr Peter Mutasa, the President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) regretted that workers were congregating at a time when the country witnessed the loss of young workers at Lion’s Den Grain Marketing Board (GMB) Depot.
“That accident could have been avoided had sound occupational safety and health managements systems been put in place. Young Workers have become a vulnerable group as they are continuously subjected to precarious work, resulting in them sustaining occupational injuries, diseases and other related health challenges. It is therefore prudent that we commit to the provisions of Sustainable Development Goal Number 3 on good health and wellbeing and goal number 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth,” Mr Mutasa said.
He said the cholera epidemic, which has recorded more than 49 deaths could have been caused by the failure by the City Fathers to provide workers with appropriate personal protective equipment which has made it very difficult for them to attend to refuse collection and sewer bursts.
The Global trends of accidents are devastating as there are about 270 million occupational accidents and occupational diseases recorded each year. Mr Mutasa said trends in the country have worsened with 3 841 injuries and 51 fatalities already recorded between January – August in 2018. The same period last year had 3 278 injuries and 34 fatalities with lost time injury frequency rate of 2.79 whilst 3.67 being a current figure for 2018.
“The statistics cited do not reflect injuries and fatalities from informal economy. This is a worrisome development. As organised labour, we would be delighted if the push for the creation of a safe working environment was given top priority just like the current economic Mantra “Zimbabwe is open for Business” everywhere you go one meets up with the slogan! We would like to challenge Government and Captains of Industry to start taking occupational safety and health seriously. We become worried if we begin to hear Honourable members in this regard the Honourable Minister of Labour, Public Service and Social Welfare advising Captains of Industry to hire and fire willy-nilly. Where does this take workers when they voice their concerns over exposure to unsafe working conditions?” Mr Mutasa added.
On average, Zimbabwe is losing more than 70 lives due to work-related deaths every year. The Vision Zero Initiative is earmarked for the achievement of zero harm at all workplaces.
According to ISSA, international research on the return on investment in prevention has proved that every dollar invested in safety and health generates a potential benefit of more than two dollars in positive economic effects.