DEF column strip
DEF column strip

In the afternoon of Thursday April 11, 2019, 54-year-old Wilson Joseph, a Stevedore employed by WINFRESH, was working banana containers at the Castries Wharf when tragedy struck. While on the MV Baltic Klipper, Joseph fell between two moving containers and was sandwiched. St Lucia fire and rescue services responded to a 12:15pm call for assistance but found a body already packaged for dispatch to a hospital. Joseph succumbed to his injuries soon thereafter.

Four days later, a heavy equipment operator of Vincentian nationality assigned to a road project in the vicinity of Bellevue Chopin in the South of Dominica got trapped beneath the trailer truck which was transporting his bulldozer. He was dragged against the road for what seemed to him like several minutes before someone spotted him and alerted the driver of the trailer truck to stop the vehicle.

Both cases cite safety violations by the workers. In the St Lucian incident, the employee lost his life. The family is pursuing a criminal negligence matter against the employer and shipping line. In Dominica, the employee survived his ordeal and extensive medical rehabilitation. He had to undergo a leg amputation, grafting to parts of his torso, convalescence care, physical and psychological therapy. The cost to the employer approached half-a-million dollars.

This brings us to the awareness that businesses need to adopt and implement workplace policies on safety and health not only because it is national and international law or because of social and moral values, though these are very important, but because it is good for business. Available data reveal that Latin America and the Caribbean suffer some 800 deaths annually arising out of occupational accidents and work-related diseases. What this report found is even more concerning, videlicet, the majority of the deaths happen within a three-day period following the accidents. So we are staring in a direction of high workplace injuries in an environment of inadequate healthcare. The cost to enterprise for accidents which cannot be predicted coupled with the public perception of "the greedy employer who does not care for his workers" are largely preventable.

Accidents are caused by unsafe acts or unsafe conditions or a combination of both. Accidents hardly have a single cause. The International Loss Control Institute puts forward a theory of accident causation suggesting multiple causes for accidents. However, the factor which is held to be the deciding cause is "the lack of management control." In other words, the absence of a safety and health management system.

According to the ILO, most of the future economic growth is projected to come from the development of small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs], and yet these are the most likely to ignore national and international standards on workplace safety and health. For example, most workplace accidents in SMEs never get reported and diseases go undiagnosed. Businesses therefore pay heavily in:

Lost working days

Medical and insurance expenses

Reduction in production

Compensation and/or fines

Training and re-training workers

Equipment damage and repairs

Low staff morale

Poor publicity

Good safety practices impact on the bottom line because there is a close link between national competitiveness and good safety performance.

Companies that ensure that their workforce is safe and healthy enjoy higher levels of engagement, of motivation and overall better productivity.

Likewise, workers that feel safe and are healthy and well while working, they can gain in motivation and perform well.