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Government Gets Tough on Occupational Health and Safety

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The government is close to putting concrete measures in place to maintain and promote health and safety in workplaces with a new decree being finalised by domestic and international experts.

Experts from the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, World Health Organisation (WHO), International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other stakeholders are meeting in Vientiane from July 21-22 to nalise the new decree entitled “Management of Occupational Safety and Health”.

As Laos has taken a new approach to development under a market-based economy, competition amongst entrepreneurs and other businesses focused on pro t has taken attention away from the health and safety of workers.

This lack of attention heightens the risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace, occupational disease, and physical and mental illnesses which may have long term affects on families and the country.

In her remarks at a meeting to nalise the decree yesterday, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Ms Baykham Khatthiya referred to the ILO which estimates that globally around 5,000 people die every day, or about 2 million people every year, from labour accidents and occupational diseases.

A business survey conducted in Laos in 2006 showed that 611 people fell victim to workplace accidents at 355 enterprises in the country, of whom six died and three became disabled.

A survey carried out two years later showed 531 people were victims of workplace accidents occurring at 383 enterprises, where six people also died and three were disabled.

Ms Baykham said these statistics were collected from a small number of businesses, adding that the number of accidents may be even higher if the data were collected from all 200,000 registered enterprises nationwide.

She said the majority of workers in Laos came from rural areas, were employed in agriculture and were poorly educated in health and safety issues.

Even though the Labour Law stipulates occupational safety and health in its 13 articles, the stipulations were too general, she added.

The new decree has 10 sections, divided into articles, which address the responsibilities of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and other ministries, hazardous factor protection and control, occupational safety and health management in the workplace and improvement of working environments, among others.

Also speaking at the meeting, WHO Representative to Laos Dr Juliet Fleischel said workplace management required an acting regulation, adoption of a basic set of occupational health and safety standards, appropriate law enforcement, strengthening of workplace inspections and health surveillance, as well as building collaboration between ministries and other institutions.