The traditional way to measure productivity focuses on the input, process and output. Industry focuses on the cost optimisation during the input, lean manufacturing, KAIZEN in the process and the return of investment on the output. However, employee welfare is always labelled and perceived as cost and burden for the industry. This article aims to expose and to reveal the secrets of productivity that have always been the least priority – occupational safety and health.
When reviewing the public perception about the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) under the Ministry of Human Resources, this department is known as the troublemakers and give issues to the industry. In the eye of the industry, this department would only come in to find fault and penalise the industry. However, those industrial people who gave such connotation, have they ever tried to understand the fundamentals and the existence of this department?
The Evolution of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health
The issue of occupational safety was first established in Malaysia in the year 1878 when Mr William Givan was appointed as the Machinery Inspector. His job was to inspect the safety aspect of steam boilers, which was usually used in tin mines. This was known as the steam boiler safety era that was before 1915.
From 1914 till 1952 was known as the machinery safety era. During this era, inspectors needed to focus on the inspection of machinery, including internal combustion engines, water turbines and other related auxiliary machinery. The officer who was involved in the inspection was known as the Inspector of Machinery and Assistant Inspector of Machinery under the administration of the Machinery Branch, Mineral Department. Moving to the industrial safety era – 1953 till 1967, the Machinery Ordinance 1953 was started to cover all aspect of factory workers’ safety where those machineries were being used. However, the ordinance was not fully enforced.
From 1970 till 1994 was known as the industrial safety and hygiene era. In 1967, the Factories and Machinery Act was enacted by the Parliament and focused on machinery and occupational safety. The development on safety and health achieved a great change with the formation of Industrial Hygiene Section in 1980; the Petroleum Safety Section in 1985; Major Hazard Section in 1991 and active engagement and involvement with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
After 1994, it was the start of occupational safety and health era – the enactment of Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 (Act 514) to promote self-regulation concept among the employers and employees and to establish effective safety and health measures.
Currently, under the Occupational Safety and Health Master Plan 2016-2020, strategies and programs were formulated to further boost national occupational safety and health (OSH) to greater heights in order to protect the nation’s human resources, which are an important asset to the success of Vision 2020. Excellent OSH level will improve the employee’s quality of life and thus contribute to higher productivity and index components under the Work Environment Index of Malaysia Social Welfare, in line with the policy and the country’s aim of achieving a developed country status.
Achieving International Productivity Standards: Occupational Safety and Health International Perspective
There are 17 areas of United Nation’s sustainable development goals. When zooming into area number 8 of the sustainable development goal, it looks at decent work and economic growth. In Target 8.8 of the sustainable development goal, item number 8 is to ensure that all local and foreign workers are safe. In the international level, the department follows Convention 155 – Occupational Safety and Health Convention of ILO. In 2012, DOSH ratified ILO Convention 187 on the promotional framework for occupational safety and health. Under the Convention, Malaysia needs to develop the national policy, national system and national programs.
National Policy states commitment from government, employers and employees to ensure workplaces are safe through systematic risk management. The national policy was approved by the Cabinet and signed by the Prime Minister on the 15th of January 2019. National System refers to the establishment of infrastructure and framework that include OSH laws, enforcement authority, enforcement mechanism (audit, inspection, investigation, punitive action), promotional activities, national tripartite advisory council and a mechanism to collect and analyse OSH data (occupational accident and diseases). National Program relates to OSH Master Plan 2020 (together with Strategic Plan for Building, Construction Industry, as well as Strategic Plan for Small and Medium Industries). These plans clearly stated the objectives, timelines and the implementers.
The Mistaken Unsung Hero
There are two main indicators of occupational safety and health; the leading indicator and the lagging indicator. The lagging indicators include the mortality cases, occupational accidents, diseases and poisoning cases. The leading indicators include numbers of workplaces that have been inspected and audited, the number of researches conducted, a number of OSH infrastructure and practitioners created, and the number of awareness and training have been conducted. However, the public only has an interest to look at the lagging indicator – the number of accident cases!
The public should change their perception, not only looking into the number of accident cases, but the contribution and hard work of DOSH should be reviewed.
To illustrate, when the department increases the enforcement exercise, logically and automatically, the number of cases of non-compliance would be increased. However, the public would look at the department in another perspective. The public would magnify that occupational safety and health becomes a big issue as if the department is not doing its job. As such, the department is always becoming the victim when performing its duties.
However, industrial players remain focused on the inspection, but they are yet to appreciate the new focus of DOSH that looks into the employee’s quality of life and thus contribute to increasing of productivity. Hence, it is a need to understand the heart of DOSH.