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  Corp. OSH Views
DOSH On SMI Issues And Solutions

The Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) is a government department under the Ministry of Human Resources Malaysia. The department is responsible for ensuring the safety, health and welfare of persons at work and protections of other people from hazards to safety and health arising from the activities of persons at work in various economic sector.

AboutSafety.com writer Zoe Phoon
talks to Ir. Tuan Hj Abu Bakar Che Man, Director-General of Department of Occupational Safety & Health, Malaysia.

AboutSafety/Zoe Phoon: What is the current situation regarding occupational safety and health (OSH) in small and medium industries (SMIs) in Malaysia? How does the OSH situation compare to that of the multinational and big companies?

Abu Bakar: The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 1994 supports the philosophy of self-regulation for people at work to enhance OSH standards at the workplace. Multinational and big companies probably adhere well to the philosophy but most SMIs face difficulty in translating philosophy into reality due to shortcomings like lack of expertise, resources or manpower in SMIs which could have led to their low levels of OSH performance.

ZP: What are the steps taken by the various government agencies, especially DOSH, to enhance OSH standards in SMIs?

AB: The government, through the Ministry of Human Resources, has taken steps such as the setting up of a subcommittee on SMIs under the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, the highest organization pertaining to OSH in Malaysia.

In addition, the government via DOSH has taken the initiative to formulate long term solutions to these issues while the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides training, research and consultancy, and disseminates information on OSH to SMIs.

ZP: What are the long term solutions proposed by DOSH?

AB: A drastic and strategic plan is required to improve OSH standards in SMIs, a plan broad enough to include participation of multinationals and big companies to guide and assist SMIs. DOSH has proposed a five-year plan with the effects generated by its implementation to be sustainable for as long as possible.

To achieve this, DOSH via its Strategic Management Group has drafted the Enhancing the Standard of Occupational Safety and Health among the SMIs plan. Its objectives include securing commitment of top management to OSH of SMIs, providing systematic guidance on OSH to SMIs, having systematic recognition procedures for companies participating in the program and having a systematic mechanism to enhance OSH standards in SMIs.

ZP: Please elaborate.

AB: Top management commitment is vital, without which OSH management in SMIs will not be successful. We have drawn up the loan incentive program and umbrella program. Under the former, loan providers to SMIs are encouraged to incorporate OSH clauses in their loan agreements with the SMIs requiring top management to indicate commitment to upgrade OSH at the workplace. Failure to do so may result in rejected loan applications.

The umbrella program requires participation of multinationals and big companies that practise the umbrella/vendor scheme which farms out manufacture of components of their main products to the SMIs. Under this program, the multinationals and big companies will be required to insert OSH clauses in their agreements with the SMIs stating the commitment level of the SMI top management to OSH. The consideration of present OSH standards in the SMI company will be taken into account as well before it is to be approved as a vendor to the big companies.

To provide guidance on OSH to SMIs, DOSH has proposed the mentor and good neighborhood program. The mentor program requires big companies to act as mentors to one or several SMIs providing them knowledge and guidance on OSH to enable the SMIs to upgrade OSH standards at their workplace.

Likewise under the good neighborhood program, big companies in a particular industrial area will provide knowledge and guidance on OSH to one or several SMIs in its neighborhood to enable them to improve OSH standards.

DOSH also recommended systematic recognition procedures for multinationals and big companies participating in these programs. DOSH together with the National Council for OSH have proposed that awards like certificates, plaques and flags be given to the participants. Criteria for the awards will include the OSM management system implemented, accident/incident records, compliance with OSH laws and results of audits conducted by DOSH inspectors.

As to the need for a systematic mechanism to oversee and monitor the programs' implementation to enhance OSH in SMIs, DOSH and NIOSH will work together on this.

DOSH has submitted its proposals to the government as part plans to further develop OSH in the country under the 8th Malaysia Plan. The proposals include the possibility of reintroducing the Work Improvement in Small Enterprises (WISE) program which has proven effective in some countries in generating solutions in the form of simple, low cost improvements that link productivity with a safer and better workplace.

ZP: What are the global OSH trends in SMIs?

AB: Advanced countries like the UK, the US, Australia and Japan have programs for upgrading OSH standards in SMIs while the ILO has launched the WISE program to upgrade OSH as well as improve the quality and productivity of SMIs. 

The low standard of OSH in SMIs is a well-known fact due to their limited resources, finance, manpower and expertise.

ZP: What is the accident scenario in SMIs in Malaysia?

AB: It is difficult to give the exact figure as the statistics from SOCSO do not separate the number of accidents in the SMIs and big companies. At this point of time, the statistics are for all. But we can estimate the figure based on the reports submitted which indicate that 80 to 90 percent of the accidents reported to SOCSO involved SMIs.

ZP: How does the present rate of accidents in SMIs in Malaysia compare with that of previous years, and with those of SMIs in developing and developed countries?

AB: If we agree that 80-90 percent of the accidents are from SMIs, then the number of accidents per 1,000 workers has gone down. It is not enough to look at the number of accidents alone because as more people work, the chances of accidents occurring are higher. So we have to look at the rate of accidents per 1,000 workers and that has declined from 16 per 1,000 in 1994 to 11 per 1,000 in 1999.

This means that out of 1,000 workers, 11 were injured at work last year. And based on the records that 80-90 percent of the accidents occurred in SMIs, then out of the 11 injured, 8-9 workers are from the SMIs.

Compared to the 29-30 per 1,000 workers in 1999 in Thailand which has a number of industries similar to Malaysia's, our rate is much better off.

But if we compare that with 3 per 1,000 workers of the world's best like Sweden, Finland and Denmark, then we still have a lot more to do to bring down our rate of accidents.

ZP: What can we do to improve things?

AB: We must have a safe and health work culture to think further ahead. Saying that `safety is my priority` is not enough because priorities can change, unlike culture which is there all the time and is not affected by priorities. For instance, culture is always there even though we change the whole paradigm, like moving into the knowledge economy.

But we have to work towards this safety culture even if it may take a generation. The government has already provided the infrastructure (essentially OSHA 1994) towards creating a safety and health culture. To comply with OSHA 1994, an organization will have to put safety and health management at the heart of its business. On our side, NIOSH provides training, research and consultancy, and disseminates OSH information while DOSH is involved in setting standards, formulating policies and promoting OSH at the workplace.
ZP: What are the government and DOSH doing to enhance the OSH situation in SMIs?

AB: The government is taking steps to form an SMI unit exclusively to address SMI issues. This is in addition to DOSH's proposals to further develop OSH in the country under the 8th Malaysia Plan. We have estimated a budget of RM10-20 million to translate the concepts into action over a five-year period.  

ZP: What is the present coverage of OSH legislation on SMIs in Malaysia?

AB: Presently, there is no specific piece of OSH legislation exclusively tailored to fit SMIs. Of the OSH laws being enforced now, i.e. OSHA 1994 and the Factories and Machinery Act (FMA) 1967, neither provides any exception clause for SMIs. Even though some provisions are being loosely enforced on SMIs, there are steps to encourage them to start complying fully with such provisions.

Depending on the number of workers employed, among the requirements not being strictly enforced on SMIs are probably those relating to the safety policy, safety and health committee, and safety and health officer.

Even before the existence of legal requirements, it has been the policy of DOSH to encourage SMIs to have safety policies, safety and health committees, and if possible, to employ a safety and health officer at the workplace because DOSH is convinced that without a safety policy and a safety and health committee, it will be difficult for SMIs to have a good OSH management system.

For instance, without a safety and health policy, there will not be strong commitment from top management to OSH, thus making it difficult to improve OSH standards in the organization. Similarly, without a safety and health committee, there will be no formal platform for workers and management to discuss OSH issues openly. 

ZP: Your advice to the SMIs?

AB: They should take safety and health at the workplace seriously because it is good for their business - it ties in with quality and productivity. Ultimately, the SMIs are the ones to benefit.

SMIs always think it is not worth spending on safety and health at the workplace because it is not reflected in their books. They think it involves a lot of money but they don't realize the many low cost and simple solutions. An example is a worker doing work sitting down. The way the table or chair is designed may create back problems to the worker. So what needs to be done is to cut the legs of the table if the table is too high. In this way, the worker will become more productive because he does not have to take sick leave due to back pains.

So come to NIOSH and DOSH for assistance. We can give advice to the SMIs but they have to implement it.  

Composed: 11/10/00 | Modified: 11/10/00


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