The Association for Community and Dialogue is concerned about the high accident statistics provided by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (Dosh).
In 2017 183 construction workers lost their lives at their worksites. This translates to 14 fatalities for every 10,000 workers employed.
As for accidents, according to the Dosh, there were 42,513 throughout the country or an average of 116 every day (New Straits Times, 17 February).
Various factors, including non-compliance of safety standards at the workplace, cause accidents, which fall on the shoulders of owners, contractors and employers. So the effectiveness of enforcement bodies like Dosh must be reviewed to reduce accidents in the country.
With the new amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 being tabled in Parliament, the strengths and weaknesses of Dosh and its current enforcement role should be debated with the aim of enhancing its enforcement capabilities.
I believe this policy was written for proactive action rather than being reactive after an incident has taken place.
The question is, has Dosh played its role effectively as a strong enforcement body? Or is it involved in some other activities or roles leaving its officers with little time for enforcement work of the highest standard? Does it have enough personnel?
Does it play a critical role in monitoring critical public projects? Or does it assume that contractors are competent in exercising their duties, only holding them accountable after a disaster has taken place? Is there any element of corruption?
The statistic of 42,513 accidents throughout the country demands accountability on the part of Dosh.
It is time for the Ministry of Human Resources to review the current role of Dosh and evaluate its practice in line with the actual mandate of the department.
Dosh has to remain a strong enforcement body that is proactively involved in preventing workplace accidents. This it can do by taking action against irresponsible contractors and local government authorities and even taking the state government to court if there is negligence from the very beginning of a project.
Supervision on the safety fundamentals of a public project at the initial stage is vital. Strong enforcement of law and policy in meeting higher standards of safety would put Malaysia in high regards among the community of Asean nations. Malaysia would be seen as a place that is safe for public projects, where integrity is the experience from the inception to the end of a project.
This requires a review of the enforcement capabilities of Dosh.
Ronald Benjamin is executive secretary of the Association for Community and Dialogue.