Occupational Safety and Health
The building construction industry in Zambia has been identified as a potential driver for economic growth and green job creation. However, the sector is poorly regulated in terms of occupational safety and health (OSH). According to the ILO’s 2012 Zambia Country Profile on Occupational Safety and Health, the building construction industry reported 58 occupational fatalities between 2003 and 2007. This high number of fatalities, which ranked third behind the mining and quarrying and chemical sectors, can be attributed to, among other things, the structure of the industry and poor working conditions. Subcontracting is very common, which heightens the pressure of meeting deadlines, and increases the difficulties of co-ordinating work and ensuring site safety and health. Most of the workers are on temporary contracts, which compel them to work long hours in order to increase their earnings while work lasts. Compared to their counterparts on permanent contracts, workers on temporary contracts rarely have sufficient training or the experience necessary for the hazardous working environment on most construction sites. Furthermore, these workers often cannot refuse to work under unsafe conditions. The ILO estimates that 95% of accidents involve workers employed by subcontractors.
OSH challenges in the building construction sector
Low levels of awareness and skills
A lack of familiarity with existing OSH frameworks among employers and workers has been identified as one of the main causes of (i) low rates of compliance; (ii) the high incidence of occupational accidents; and (iii) the lack of safety precautions in the workplace. In addition, most employers in the sector view OSH as a cost rather than an investment and thus pay very little attention to either its legal provisions or promotional aspects.
Inadequate coverage of OSH in vocational and technical courses
The majority of vocational and technical training institutions responsible for training artisans in various aspects of building construction have yet to integrate OSH into the training modules offered. Where such modules do exist, their coverage of important, relevant subject matter is scant. Consequently, artisans graduating from vocational training institutions have low levels of OSH awareness and do not have the necessary skills to conduct risk assessments and manage identified risks.
OSH in the construction sector is covered under the Factories Act, Act No. 2 of 1966. The Construction (Safety and Health) Regulations under the Act have not been reviewed since the Act was first implemented and consequently do not address the challenges and realities posed by current practices in the construction sector. In particular, subcontracting is a grey area in terms of duty-of-care for OSH.
Promoting OSH in the green building construction sector
Strengthening social dialogue and knowledge sharing
Creating safe and healthy workplaces starts with awareness creation and the sharing of knowledge regarding prevailing occupational hazards and risks. Therefore, one of the goals of the project is to work in close partnership with government, workers, employers, and representative organisations to develop an awareness-raising strategy that will highlight the responsibilities and obligations of employers and workers.
Revision of the regulatory framework
The existing legal framework, in particular the Construction (Safety and Health) Regulations contained in the Factories Act, will be revised and aligned with the ILO’s Convention 167 on Safety and Health in Construction. The adoption of Convention 167 will address some of the gaps in the Construction (Safety and Health) Regulations, such as OSH management on the construction site.
Strengthening and mainstreaming OSH in technical and vocational training
The training curriculum for construction-related courses at Thorn Park Construction Training Centre (TPCTC) will be updated to include OSH. To this extent, an OSH Training Manual on Construction Safety is currently under development by TPCTC in conjunction with stakeholders such as the Ministry of Labour and Social Security’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health, the National Council for Construction and the EcoLusaka Project, which falls under the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The OSH Training Manual on Construction Safety will serve as a guide for small- and medium-scale contractors.