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Vol. 29 No. 3
May-June 2007

Conference Call | Reports from recent conferences and symposia 
See also www.iupac.org/symposia

Occupational Health and Safety Management in East Africa

by Kelvin Khisa

A three-day regional conference on Occupational Health and Safety Management in East Africa was held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 27–29 September 2006. It attracted over 120 participants, drawn mainly from industry, the service sector (hotels and hospitals), business associations, consultancy, NGOs, and academia.

This conference was sponsored by IUPAC, which provided some financial support. The IUPAC Committee on Chemistry and Industry (COCI) endorsed the event and Mark Cesa, COCI chairman, participated in the conference.

The conference featured 30 presentations by health and safety practitioners drawn from the UK, USA, Uganda, and Kenya. The well-attended conference also had two exhibitions by SGS and Bureau Veritas Quality International, two companies that provide certification services in health and safety management.

In recent years there has been increased emphasis in East Africa on the need to improve occupational health and safety (OH&S) in response to a marked increase in the number of work-related accidents. Public awareness of these accidents has provided a driving force for industry and allied activities to improve on their safety records. Local and national governments and the insurance industry are taking a hard look at safety in industry as a whole and the chemical industry in particular, and there has been a great increase in the amount of government regulation in this area. It is against this background that the conference was organized.

The conference aimed to enable industrialists and other stakeholders to appreciate the purpose of an OH&S management system, explain its enabling legal and regulatory framework, and explore the purpose and intent of OH&S Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001/2. It was concluded that measures to improve health and safety should first eliminate hazards where practicable, then reduce risks as a second choice, and then mandate the use of personal protective equipment (PPEs) as a last resort.

Participants in the Regional Conference on Occupational Health and Safety Management in East Africa that was held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 27–29 September 2006.

Whereas industry in developed countries often takes OH&S issues very seriously, their counterparts in the developing world do not do so. This is largely due to lack of awareness, non-enforcement of relevant safety laws and regulations, and a lack of a systematic structure that guides the establishment of sound OH&S management systems. The end result has been an uncoordinated approach to safety issues, a development that exposes workers to high levels of risks and hazards.

Although hazard elimination is the goal, experience has taught us that guaranteed, failure-free designs and devices have so far eluded mankind, despite his astonishing advances in knowledge and technology. Certainly all of us in our personal experiences have had many opportunities to reconfirm the wisdom of the admonition, “Plan for the best, but prepare for the worst.” There is therefore an urgent need for developing country industrialists and key stakeholders to be exposed to OHSAS specifications that give requirements for an OH&S management system and enables organizations to control their full range of risks and hazards.

The presented papers covered a wide range of topics such as IUPAC’s role in helping chemical industry contribute to sustainable development, wealth creation and the improvement of quality of life; the OHSAS certification process; the legal and regulatory framework for OH&S; OHSAS as a tool for enhancing industrial competitiveness; health and safety policy statements; accidents and first aid; the role of cleaner production in occupational health and safety management; responsible care in chemical production; hazard identification in chemical production; risk assessments in chemical production; systematic safety, health, and environment reviews; noise management in the work environment; and classification and labeling of hazardous substances. Additional presentations included Home Grown Solutions to Health and Safety Management; Fire Emergency Preparedness and Response; Management of Asbestos Materials; Material Safety Data Sheets; Work Place Safety and Welfare; Benefits of Acquiring OHSAS Certification: The GlaxoSmithKline Experience; Electrical Safety; and the Role of PPEs in Occupational Health and Safety Management.

The participation of Kenya and Uganda enabled the participants to share experiences and lessons learnt within the framework of the provisions of their respective legal and regulatory regimes. Video presentations during the conference from the UK helped conference participants to visibly appreciate the importance of having a functional OH&S system.

The conference also allowed for group discussions on following OH&S issues: institutional and enforcement frameworks; legal, regulatory, and policy regimes; emergency preparedness and response; technological shortcomings; capacity building; and research and development. It was unanimously agreed that there is a need for follow up activities after the execution of health and safety audits in selected companies in Uganda and Kenya. Specifically, these companies need help developing performance indicators that will guide the long term monitoring and evaluation program. Logistical arrangements that will enable the realization of this goal are underway.

The main sponsors of this conference were IUPAC and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which works as a laboratory of ideas and a standard setter for the purposes of forging universal agreements on emerging ethical issues. The success of the conference demonstrates the emerging importance of public-private sector partnerships in the promotion of occupational health and safety issues in the region.

The next step is to embark on actual health and safety audits in Uganda and Kenya, once the logistical arrangements are finalized. This will be completed as part of IUPAC project <www.iupac.org/projects/2005/2005-046-1-022.html>.

Kelvin Khisa <kkhisa@cpkenya.org> was the conference organizer for this meeting. He is currently a deputy director at the Kenya National Cleaner Production Center in Nairobi. In August 2002, Kelvin Khisa was a fellow of the COCI Safety Training Program. His training included a visit to Sankyo Co., Ltd. production and research facilities in Japan.


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