Occupational illness a cause of concern

By Lakshmi Kothaneth — MUSCAT: April 30 – The world celebrates the International Labour Day, also known as May Day, on Monday. The day has its prominence for many reasons but one of them is the reduction in the number of work hours to what is acceptable in most parts of the world: eight hours. A visible care implemented in Oman is the change in work hours during summer. While the Ministry of Manpower has specified rules for the welfare of labourers such as medical checkups, safety equipment, availability of first-aid and uniforms to be provided by employers, the challenges labourers face are often injuries and fatalities at the workplace.
However, there are areas that are not visible, say experts.
Labourers fall into a group where physical strength and skills are in focus, but the mental health is never assessed.
From the size of the room for the workers to the space between beds, the ministry has specifications.
Another big concern is the occupational illness.
Samara Salah, owner of Samara Training Services which offers training and consultancy in health, safety and risk management, said: “Actually, it is impressive that occupational health safety is becoming more and more prominent in Oman. In UK, where the process on awareness and actions on occupational health and safety began years ago, occupational illness continues to affect 13,000 people every year. Most of them suffer from lung diseases due to exposure to carcinogenic materials at work.”
So why is there a gap between occupational illness and safety?
“Occupational diseases are not given too much priority, but I dream to see a day when it is given equal priority as safety by all authorities, owners of companies, civil bodies, employers and employees,” said Samara.
According to the ministry, an employer has to ensure medical checks for those employed for work in conditions where they may be exposed to occupational hazards.
Such examinations should be in line with the nature of work and the kind of disease the worker could be potentially exposed to.
A statement by the International Labour Union says, “An employer shall regularly conduct periodical medical tests for workers exposed to any occupational disease in accordance with the occupational diseases table issued by the Ministry of Health.”
Medical tests shall be repeated for workers exposed to an occupational disease within a period shorter than that stipulated if the worker’s health requires such a procedure.
Workers who expose themselves to bio-hazards must be vaccinated against contagious diseases transmitted from animals or patients exposed to them due to the nature of their work.
The employer or his representative should take necessary action to provide adequate protection to the workers’ safety at work sites.