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Employers must insist on health and safety of workers

Matters of occupational safety and health are universal regardless of number of workers employed at a workplace.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act No. 9 of 2006, a workplace means a working environment and all places of work and all sites where work is carried out.

The Act covers all sectors in Uganda. Section 6 of the Act empowers OSH inspectors to: enter; inspect; and examine workplace conditions in order to see whether everything complies with the law.

Under the Act, both employers and employees have roles and obligations towards safety and health. Any workplace or business with one or more employees must comply with the OSH Act. The Act is administered by the Commissioner, OSH Department, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD).

An employer with 20 workers or more at a workplace must have a written OSH Policy which should be kept under review in accordance with section 14 of the Act. It is a duty of every employer, if requested to do so by safety representatives, to establish a safety committee for a workplace with at least 20 workers as specified in section 16.

All employers must register their workplaces with the OSH department, MGLSD and obtain a Certificate of Registration of a workplace in line with section 40 and 41 of the Act.

This is done upon payment of such prescribed fees before the employer or occupier of a workplace begins to occupy or use any premises as a workplace.

Section 42 requires building plans and any architectural drawings of a new workplace, any alterations of an existing workplace, to be submitted to the Commissioner, OSH for approval, before the construction of a building or alterations of existing buildings begins.

Employers must supervise the health of workers. They should conduct periodic medical examination of workers during employment, which involves exposure to a particular hazard to health in line with Section 21 of the Act; the employer must further maintain records of the medical examination information obtained and avail such records for epidemiological and other research as required under section 22 of the Act.

According to section 19, employers are required to provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) where the level of air pollution and chemical substance in a working environment exceeds the exposure limits specified by an occupational hygienist. This is aimed at minimizing exposure to workplace hazards.

An employer must protect workers and the general public from the dangerous aspects of the employers undertaking at his or her own cost; maintain systems of safe working environment; ensure absence of risk to health in connection with use, handling, storage, transportation of articles and substances, provide adequate and appropriate information, instructions, training and supervision necessary to ensure safety and health of employees.

It is an offence under section 8 of the Act for an employer, his or her agents to cause delay to, or obstruct inspectors from carrying out their work. An inspector need not issue a notice of inspection to a workplace.

Inspectors have powers under section 6 (a) of the Act and can enter, in- spect and examine any workplaces during the day or night any workplace and every part of it, where there is reasonable cause to believe that any person is employed in it as empowered. It is an offence to cause delay to, or obstruction of inspector under section 8 of the Act.

A person who occupies or uses any premises contrary without obtaining a Certificate of Registration of a workplace as provided for under section 40 and 41 commits an offence and is liable, on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for every day during which the contravention continues after the conviction.

A person who interferes with, or misuses any means, appliance, convenience or other things provided under the Act for securing the health, safety or welfare of the persons employed or refuses to use the means or appliance provided for securing the health or safety of workers commits an offence under section 99.

A worker commits an offence if he/she wilfully or recklessly does anything he or she knows or ought to have known to be likely to endanger the safety of the premises of the workplace, or operations or the safety, health of himself/herself or the other employed persons in the premises or who are involved in the operations under section 100.

Forgery of certificates, false entries and false declarations are offences under section 101 of the Act. Where an act of default of which an occupier or owner of a workplace is liable under the Act, is the act of default of an agent, servant, worker or other persons, the agent, servant, worker or other person commits the offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for twelve months.

@fionanakibuuka@gmail.com

The author is a senior general prosecution inspector, OSHD, MGLSD

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