Hélio Matlonhane – Consultant and Project Manager of Insite Mozambique
Accidents at work and occupational diseases resulting from work activities have always been a major concern for societies, workers, employers and organisations in various countries and socio-economic contexts.
Unfair and deplorable working conditions led, in June 1919, to the creation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Versailles by the Peace Conference.
In 1998, through the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the member countries of the Treaty of Versailles undertook to develop the legal framework in respect of the fundamental principles at work, as well as to eliminate forms of forced/ compulsory labour, to abolish child labour and to eliminate discrimination in access to employment. Mozambique, as a ratifying country of the ILO conventions, made efforts that resulted in changes in its legal framework, having as a premise the ratified conventions and also the economic, social and political evolution of the country.
In Mozambique, the Labour Law – Law no. 23/2007 of 1 August – last updated in 2007, whose chapter VI is on hygiene, safety and health of workers, establishes as a premise that the employer must provide his workers with good physical, environmental and moral working conditions, inform them of the risks of their work place and instruct them on the proper compliance with the rules of hygiene and safety at work.
The Law applies to legal relations of subordinate work established between employers and national and foreign salaried workers, working in associations, non-governmental organisations and in the cooperative sector, of all branches of activity and regardless of the size of the organisation. Despite the concern and efforts to increase market regulation and protection of workers, global estimates by the ICOH 2022 (International Congress on Occupational Health) show that there are 2.9 million deaths per year due to work accidents and occupational diseases and at least 402 million non-fatal occupational injuries per year.
“Occupational accidents and diseases are estimated to contribute to a loss of 5.4 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) annually”
Joint estimates from the WHO and ILO, by assessing the combination of risk factors and health impact, state that occupational diseases accounted for 81% of all work-related deaths, with the remaining 19% due to accidents occurring in the workplace.
At the national level, statistical data from the General Labour Inspectorate (IGT) reveal that in 2019, 523 accidents at work resulted in temporary incapacity, 41 in permanent partial incapacity, two in permanent total incapacity and seven in death. In 2021, 22 people lost their lives as a result of 604 accidents at work, a rise in the number of deaths compared to the previous year, when there were 16 deaths in 642 incidents. The main causes are non-observance of protection and safety rules in the workplace.
It is fundamental to bear in mind that the occurrence of work accidents and occupational illnesses, besides causing immeasurable human suffering, also implies great economic losses for companies and the economy in general, both due to the associated direct costs (insurance costs, health care, loss of production, repairs, reduction of working capacity increased absenteeism, pensions and compensation), as well as the indirect/occult (productivity losses associated with permanent disability, staff turnover costs, loss of qualified staff, dissatisfied customers, delays in work scheduling and damage to reputation), which also contribute to the negative economic impact.
It is estimated that occupational accidents and diseases contribute to an annual loss of 5.4% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In the last two years, the covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the economic losses of companies/the world economy and has given rise to numerous new challenges regarding Occupational Health and Safety (OSH). The scenario therefore seems to indicate that companies should be increasingly prepared to deal with different events and challenges with impact at scale on Occupational Health and Safety.
Given the context described, it is up to organisations to rethink Health and Safety at Work as a differential factor, ensuring compliance, besides conformity with OSH regulations, which is the minimum necessary. However, the creation of a culture of prevention and Safety at Work and worker training is still a challenge for many companies, including those in more developed countries.
The integration of OSH management systems into the company’s management structure is the key to controlling risks and reducing work-related accidents and illnesses, as it promotes a proactive and preventive approach to OSH, based on continuous improvement.
Any measures implemented with this approach contribute not only to improve performance in OS&H, but also in other aspects that reflect the productivity and competitiveness of the company in procurement processes for the so-called mega projects (large investments) and in providing services to companies with high standards.
At international level there are several standards for the implementation of OHS Management Systems, being ISO 45001:2018 one of the standards with greater expression and recognition. According to ISO data from September 2021, there are more than 250 thousand sites certified by the ISO 45001 standard in the world, which, considering that its publication occurred only in 2018 and that certification is not yet a legal imperative, may be a good indicator of the growing interest of Organisations in the topic.
In fact, underlining that it is not yet a legal imperative or obligation for companies, the certification of OSH management is a strategic and management component of Organisations. Promoting a proactive approach and allowing the recognition of management by a third party entity, which certifies that the organisation continuously seeks improvement in the working conditions, contributes to increasing the confidence of clients and stakeholders in the company.
In Mozambique, however, data collected from 187 managers in a study on Occupational Health and Safety conducted in 2017 gives a clear indication that there are few companies that have a structured/systematised planning for identifying needs and conducting training actions on OSH, involving workers in the elaboration and fulfilment of the defined plan.
In legal terms, the involvement of workers can be ensured through the creation of OSH commissions (composed by representatives of the workers and the employer), which aim to monitor compliance with OSH norms, investigate the causes of accidents and incidents, organise prevention methods, and ensure hygiene in the workplace.
From the perspective of ISO 45001, the consultation and participation of workers in the OSH management system is also a crucial requirement.
Based on the assumption that it is not enough to have well structured documents if the employees do not know how to interpret them, training and employee consultation and participation is a fundamental basis for compliance with OSH policies, management and operational procedures. Leadership, commitment and a positive OSH culture, where a safe and healthy working environment is valued and promoted by management and workers, is key to implementing and maintaining the effectiveness and efficiency of an OSH management system.
In workplaces with a strong positive OSH culture, among several other benefits, people feel comfortable to contribute about possible hazards and risks in the workplace, ensuring continuous improvement of working conditions. Consequently, there is an increase in staff motivation and commitment, the confidence of investors and society, productivity, client retention potential and the conquest of new markets. OSH management thus adds value to the organisation’s products and services, increasing the company’s competitiveness.
In short, giving adequate priority to the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases and making adequate investments in Occupational Health and Safety will ensure a healthy workforce. Healthier and happier workers will, in turn, contribute to higher productivity, better quality and greater business profitability, generating a cycle of growth and evolution of companies/organisations that will lead to more sustainable economies.