Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 1st 2017 Contents JUNE 1 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | BG5
Good safety in the workplace
equals good economics, says
Dr Victor Coombs, chairman
of the Occupational, Safety
and Health Authority and
"When there is an accident, there are direct
costs and there are also indirect costs. There
is also the fact of loss of image for the guilty
company, damage to the company's brand
which can impact on a company's bottomline.
In some sectors, a very bad accident in the
workplace can put a company out of business,"
A medical doctor by profession, Coombs
spoke to the Business Guardian last week at
his office, Endeavour Road, Chaguanas.
He assumed position as chairman of OSH
exactly one year ago in May 2016.
He gave the example of Fortune 500 compa-
nies and said one of the main things they have
in common is they all have excellent safety
and health performance.
"To be successful and make the Fortune 500
list, a company must have good safety in its
Coombs gave a list of sectors that tend to
be more accident prone in T&T and these
include the manufacturing sector and the
In the energy sector it is slightly different
as he said that the "severity" of the accidents
is greater than the frequency.
He gave a brief history of the OSH legis-
lation, outlining that it came into being in
2004 and was amended in 2006, replacing
the Factory Ordinance Act of 1948.
Coombs said the Factory Ordinance Act only
covered workers in factories, while the OSH
Act covers all workers with the exception of
domestic workers who work in private homes.
He said the OSH legislation did not come
into force overnight and took over 25 years to
be drafted and debated.
"The OSH Act is legislation as it relates to
occupational, health, safety and welfare leg-
islation that is designed to take these issues
into the modern era. So it is designed primarily
to ensure all places of work are safe and the
environment in which workers operate are
He said the act covers phenomena like oc-
cupational diseases and also it is designed to
help both employers and employees and it is
not designed only for employees.
"The act offers guidelines to both employ-
ers and employees in terms of the legislative
Coombs said the authority encourages em-
ployers to obey the law and it does a great deal
of sensitisation among the different stake-
holders as to what is expected from them.
"When a company is found to be in breach
of the OSH legislation usually the first step
would be to advise and issue a notice to correct
"If they fail to do so, then punitive action
is taken whereby they are subjected to fines.
However, this has to go through the Industrial
Coombs said there is an entire section of
the act which covers fines and it "fluctuates"
from as low as $10,000 to $100,000.
He referred to a recent study the authority
did in which they reviewed data compiled at
the National Insurance Board on workplace
injuries and found there were more than 800
cases of accidents which were not reported
to the OSH Agency as is required by law for a
period of five years.
"As a result of those cases, several of them
have already been fined $20,000 per company.
If they are all found guilty by the Industrial
Court this can amount to over $16 million."
Explaining why companies refuse to report
workplace accidents, he said the culture of
T&T has a long way to go.
"Whereas in North America and Europe
there is a strong culture for reporting, which
is supported by a stringent legislative frame-
work, companies do not wish to be found
guilty in those countries.
"Unfortunately in the T&T setting, his-
torically there has been an attitude among
companies some who will take a chance of not
reporting and pay the fine if they get caught.
That is because at one stage the fine was $20
under the Factory Ordinance."
He said this has led to OSH Authority in-
creasing the fines and during recent stake-
holder meetings, some sectors in T&T have
recommended that the fines be increased
OSH and unions
Some companies have claimed that the OSH
legislation is anti-employer and pro-worker
and, at times, employees' representatives such
as trade unions use the act as a cover to stop
work without good reason.
Coombs said that as far as he is aware, most
workers do not use the act irresponsibly.
"What I can say, on a whole, is that neither
workers nor unions use the OSH Act illegiti-
mately. They, in fact, were supporters of the
act and were very outspoken in getting the act
in place. By and large, they obey the tenets of
the act. I would not say that it does not exist,
for there are a few unions and a few groups
of workers who, on some occasions, would
attempt to exploit provisions of the act for
non-safety issues, the most common issue
is when there is pay disputes. This is illegal,"
Coombs said when this happens and unions
use the OSH Act to stop work. "This is more
a function of poor management than a flaw
in the act.
"If a company has proper human resource
management structures, then a company and
its employees should not reach that stage."
Updating the law
Currently, the OSH Authority is meeting
with different stakeholders across the country
as they seek to update the act.
The last major meeting was held two months
ago at the Radisson Hotel, Port-of-Spain.
When asked why the need to update the act
after a decade, he said T&T is still far behind
the industrial economies who update their
safety legislation much more often.
"In the United States, Canada, and in Eu-
rope, over the same ten-year period they may
have had five or six amendments or revisions
to their acts. Legislation of this type is consid-
ered a living document and with the dynamics
of change there is the need to update as the
country moves along."
Also, there are some types of industries
that were not very prominent when the act
came into existence a decade ago and must
now be covered.
"Let us take chemicals, for example. There
are certain chemicals that are brand new that
came out in the last five years. There is radi-
ation in the construction industry, welding,
constructing plants, where gamma radiation is
being used. Again there is the need to update
the laws and regulations with respect to that."
He said globalisation has changed the mod-
ern workplace and safety, health and environ-
mental issues are being scrutinised globally.
"The International Labour Organisation
(ILO) has guidelines that T&T has signed on
to and must keep up with."
Coombs hopes that all the revisions to the
act will be done within a year, which would
be completed in 2018.
"Once we have completed all stakeholder
meetings and the final draft, it then goes to
the Parliament to be approved.
"Every man, woman and child should make
safety a way of life," he said.
DR VICTOR COOMBS
chairman of the Occupational, Safety and Health Authority and Agency
PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR
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