Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Provisions and Policies in Nepal: A Brief Review in Retrospect

work safety - 2(Photo Source: Google)

Published Article: Occupational Health And Safety (OHS) Policies In Nepal: A Brief Retrospect

Introduction

As per International Labour Organization (ILO) estimation, 2.3 million people die every year from work-related accidents and diseases globally. More than 160 million people suffer from occupational and work-related diseases, and there are 313 million non-fatal accidents per year. The suffering caused by such accidents and illnesses to workers and their families is incalculable. It is unfortunate to know that many of these workplace tragedies are preventable through the implementation of sound prevention, reporting and inspection practices.

Since Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) is a mammoth issue which involves many layers and offshoots around it, there cannot be a one-stop solution.  In a country like Nepal this seems even more evident due to the lack of adequate government policies, laws, management initiative, corporate culture and eventually willingness of employees to work safely. With a top-down approach the government needs to come up with strong OHS policies, administrative department, enforcement rules and regulating bodies whereas environmental and occupational safety awareness should be spread at the grass-roots level to help businesses build a sustainable safety culture within their factories and organizations.

In short, the solution is deeply rooted into the Government’s initiative to develop and implement sound policies, business leaders’ willingness and belief that safety is not an expense but a long-term investment and enough awareness of the OHS issues to work safely on employees’ part.  

Historical Background

For the first time in 1971 (2028 B.S.), the Department of Labor (DoL) was established in Nepal under the Ministry of Industry. Later when the Ministry of Labor was established in 1981 (2038 B.S.), it took the DoL under its wing. Once the Foreign Employment Act 1985 (2042 B.S.) was introduced, the DoL was renamed as the Department of Labor & Employment Promotion.

To manage the growing challenges of implementing foreign employment regulations, a new Foreign Employment Act 2007 (2064 B.S.) was enacted. Following the new Act, the former Department of Labor & Employment Promotion was split into two separate organizational entities, namely the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), established in 2008 (2065 B.S.), and the Department of Labor (DoL), established in 2009 (2065 B.S.).

It seems, after the advent of multiparty democracy in 1990 (2046 B.S.), the Government of Nepal started taking workers’ health and safety relatively seriously. Labor Act 1992 (2048 B.S.) was introduced to secure the rights, interests and safety of workers and employees working in enterprises of various sectors. More specifically, Section 27 through 36 of Chapter V of Labor Act 1992 explains about Health & Safety Provisions for enterprises and workers or employees. Shortly after that followed the Labor Rules 1993 (2050 B.S.) which came in effect to exercise the powers conferred by the Labor Act 1992.

Fire Safety’, ‘Load Carrying’, ‘Use of Machinery Tools and Equipment and Accident, Disease Notice and Investigation are some of the major Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) related legal provisions provided by the Labor Act 1992 and the Labor Rules 1993. Besides, Chapter VII of Labor Act 1992 also provides special safety provisions for special type of enterprises such as Tea Estate, Construction, Transportation, Hotel, Travel, Trekking, Adventure, Rafting and Jungle Safari, etc.      

The above documents are the only legal guidelines ensuring OHS of workers and employees in the country. OHS related legislative measures are not applicable to industries employing less than 10 employees; however, they are applicable to the establishments within the Industrial Estates of the country, irrespective of the number of employees working there.

“Occupational Safety and Health Project”

One of the major objectives of the DoL is to provide the labor force with safe and healthy working environment in the industrial occupation and informal region. To align with the same, initially the “Occupation Safety and Health Project” was established in 1996 under the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MoLE). Later in 2009, after the split of the DoFE and the DoL, the project was brought under the DoL, as a separate organization structure.

The project has various ongoing OHS related programs, including awareness, training, monitoring, intervention as well as coordination of concerned stakeholders to promote safe, healthy and productive work environment. As effective as they may sound, successful implementations, milestone achievements and measurable impacts of such programs need to be evaluated within the project framework and widely shared outside of it.

National Planning Commission

The Three Year Interim Plan (2007/08 – 2009/10) revealed its strategies to ensure OHS in workplaces through the setting of standards and regular monitoring of enterprises. Further, the plan assured that the policy would be formulated to make gradual progress towards safe, healthy and productive work environment by promoting and developing OHS as an integral part of enterprises as well as workplaces. The plan also emphasized on developing awareness, orientation, training, education, capacity building, inspection, monitoring and evaluation programs targeting various stakeholders.

Again in 2010, the Three Year Plan Approach Paper (2010/11 – 2012/13) set an objective to create healthy, safe and decent working environment through developing cordial labor relations, including labor inspection system and model labor offices throughout the country.

Plans and strategies always look good on papers but possess very little meaning unless they translate into actions and are able to produce measurable results in the field.

General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions

Established in 1989, the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), with 27 affiliated union-members nationwide, works as an umbrella organization for various trade unions in the field of agriculture, industry and service sectors. In 2007, with an effort to examine the issues of occupational safety and health through social dialogues with industrial stakeholders in the country, GEFONT published its results of surveyed data and focus group discussions conducted in 159 enterprises. Demands for safe drinking water, clean toilet facilities and protective safety equipment were at the top of the list. This is unfortunate but at the same time reveals stark reality of the country’s state of OHS, lingering at its primitive stage.    

In the same document, GEFONT also provided a list of OHS related legal provisions to be followed by the management of concerned organizations. Although the legal provisions did not include any specific system, benchmark or standards to follow, it provided a general framework and guideline for enterprises to maintain a clean, safe and healthy work environment.

National Building Code (NBC: 1994)

Until the 1988 (2045 BS) Udayapur Earthquake in Nepal, we did not have any regulation or good practice document in place to guide earthquake safe construction in the country, although the disaster was able to point us in the right direction. Under the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works (MPPW), the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC) developed the Nepal National Building Code (NBC) in 1993. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Center for Human Settlement (UNCHS) and few domestic as well as foreign subcontractors’ teams provided their technical assistance in developing the NBC. 

The NBC implementation went into effect after the authorization provided by the Building Construction System Improvement Committee (established by the Building Act 1998). Following a government notice in the Nepal Gazette in 2006, the NBC implementation became mandatory in all the municipalities in Nepal. Under the safety section of the requirements, the NBC included Construction Safety (NBC 114: 1994) standard and provisional recommendation on Fire Safety (NBC 107: 1994) standard.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-under-construction-image24514422

NBC 114 standard covers provisions for Health & Safety of workers in building construction/demolition works being performed under a formal contract between the employer and the contractor. In the case of owner-built construction sites the requirements are advisory. Similarly, NBC 107 provides fundamental requirements for Fire Safety in commercial, official or ordinary residential buildings.

Summary

At present, our Labor Act 1992 and Labor Rules 1993 neither adequately address current OHS problems faced by industrial workers nor does it sufficiently provide any standard procedure, legal guideline or system to ensure their good health and safety at workplaces. Recently, the Legislature Parliament passed the new Labor Bill 2017 on 11th of August 2017, tabled by the Ministry of Labor and Employment (MoLE). This certainly is a commendable effort in the right direction but sure not enough to ensure occupational health and safety of workers or employees at various workplaces in Nepal.

It’s high time our government, along with industrial organizations, private sector professionals, academia, trade unions, workers, I/NGOs and stakeholders, formulated an overarching OHS legislative framework along with administrative and enforcing bodies capable to meet international regulatory standards such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, USA), HSE (Health and Safety Executive, UK) and CCOHS (Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety).

No system is perfect and there is always room for improvements. However, the statement should not be held as an excuse for not having a robust OHS policy in place, especially when the well-being of our own national workforce is at stake.  

NOTE: The New Labour Act, 2074 (2017 AD): Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) related provisions

Published Article: Occupational Health And Safety (OHS) Policies In Nepal: A Brief Retrospect

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….(Trump) Tribalism In The Face Of Globalization

Published Article: “Environment, Climate Change And American (Trump) Tribalism In The Face of Globalization”, New Spotlight Magazine, NEPAL, 1 September, 2017

It shouldn’t sound an overrated assertion to state that today’s environmental and ecological disasters are basically man-made events which are essentially caused by human activities or to put it more accurately, incoherent activities.

Air, water and soil are being polluted left and right. Many developed and industrialized nations are heavily emitting greenhouse gases day and night. Corporate giants are not performing enough for environmental good in a global scale and rather seem busy lobbying against it.

Very little is being done to manage ever growing garbage, air pollution and toxic wastes. Global leadership lacks sufficient initiatives and local level policies are unable to provide adequate scrutiny as well as control, especially in developing countries. This in turn is causing environmental degradation, climate change and chronic health hazards around the world, hence more diseases, disasters, suffering and loss of lives.

Evolution and Environmental Sustainability

The process of evolution supports the fact that the environmental disruption may drive species to extinction. Humans could be responsible for the extinction of the most of the world’s mammals around 14,000 years ago. Could the Homo-sapiens be responsible for the extinction of twelve other human species which coexisted around the same time?

Plenty of evidence from the past explains that humans had massive impact on environment since the dawn of modern civilization. European colonialism and imperialism caused impacts by treating nature as mere exploitable resource all around the world.

In more recent times, the environment has been greatly affected by the rise of industrialization, with very little sense of nature conservation, sustainable growth and ecological harmony.

Every part of ecosystem is equally important for every species in it to live and thrive in harmony, call it environment if you will. Environmental sustainability comes hand in hand with conservation of ecological systems.

There could be numerous known and unknown factors which help preserve a sound ecological system of which we humans are just a small part. However, we happen to be greatly responsible for the loss of biodiversity, various species, forests and wildlife habitats, causing adverse effects on natural ecosystems beyond the borders.

We consider ourselves to be the most conscious, sane and sensible being on this planet but we have been constantly intervening with the environment and its natural harmony by spreading pesticides, herbicides, chemical wastes and pollutants.

Although, the theory of evolution argues that only the fittest can survive in this competitive world, it should not be forgotten that the competitive world includes nature as well and also for the evolution to take place we should let the environment make the natural selection and not the other way round.

We might be the fittest species on the face of the planet but that surely does not give us the right to disrupt ecological cycles, prevailing here for millennia. Threatening environmental harmony might drive us towards extinction for the nature might choose not to select us after all.

Thus environmental conservation and its sustainability should become our collective core imperative today if we really wish to sustain human species on this planet.

Climate Change Threats

Environmental degradation along with increased rate of global warming gave rise to global climate change, an accumulated result of human activities in just over the last few centuries.

Although the adverse effects of human on environment may not be clearly seen in day-to-day life, the accumulated impact over the time is quite evident. It may not be local, direct or prompt but the climate change effects are showing up in global scale as weather patterns are changing all over the planet, several species are going extinct, ozone layer is depleting, earth’s temperature is rising, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting rapidly, and sea level is rising faster than ever before.

Nepal’s topography and socio-economic conditions make it one of the highly vulnerable countries to climate change induced disasters. Verisk Maplecroft, a global risks advisory organization, published a Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) in 2010 ranking Nepal as the fourth most vulnerable country to the impacts of climate change. Recent estimates show that Nepal has already been facing an annual economic loss of 1.5 to 2% of GDP due to climate change events.

According to a report, submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the mean annual temperature projections for Nepal are 1.3-3.8 degree Celsius by the 2060s and 1.8-5.8 degree Celsius by the 2090s.

In the meantime, the World Bank report indicates that the mean annual temperature of the entire globe is projected to increase by 1 to 5 degree Celsius by the end of this century, placing us towards the higher end of the projected range globally.

If we don’t handle them timely and tactfully, climate change threats and its economic impacts certainly paint rather bleak future for Nepal, as agriculture, hydroelectricity and water-induced disasters are going to be of greatest concern for us in coming days.

The negative impacts of climate change in Nepal have been rapidly translating into reduced annual precipitation, decrease in Himalayan ice reserve, drying up of water resources, rapid formation of glacial lakes, receding glaciers, erratic rainfall pattern, increased threats to run-of-river hydroelectricity projects, etc. As a result, increased risk of disasters, in the form of more frequent avalanches, floods, landslides, droughts, forest fires, epidemics, etc., cannot be ignored anymore.

In regards to climate change threats, major proclamations such as, “Climate change is for real” and “Urgent risk mitigation actions are indispensable” are quite consistent globally.

Due to the global nature of the issue, it is impossible to solve the problem by any one nation, organization or a certain group. It requires coordinated participation and collaborative efforts of every possible stakeholder to at least delay, if not stop, our own existential crisis and rescue the planet, we call home.

American (Trump) Tribalism

America, for a long time, had been the largest environmental polluter in the world, overtaken by China only in recent years. It is also one of only few countries, which has not yet ratified the Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations global initiative by 192 countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a country with leading global economy where nearly two-third of the population believes that climate change is real and caused by humans, it is sad to see that the US President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order on 28th March 2017 to eliminate Obama’s climate change regulations.

However, his wish to renegotiate the UN climate change accord was immediately dismissed by the countries like France and Germany which have been strong proponent of the issue.

In the winter of 2015, nearly 200 countries, including the US, came together in Paris and agreed upon the environmental emission targets covering nearly 90 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

But now environmental experts around the world are showing concerns that this change of policy in America would make it almost impossible to meet the international pollution targets agreed in December 2015 at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21), an international environmental treaty as per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992.

Around two years ago, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai City of Japan in 2015) made climate change-induced disasters its highest priority, especially in developing countries.

The decision was made considering the fact that the countries which contribute least to greenhouse gas emissions are the ones suffering greatest threat of climate change worldwide.

Although it seems fairer to focus on mitigating the impacts of climate change in these countries, it doesn’t at all feel encouraging when the so-called global leaders become egocentric and behave with such short-sightedness.

Trump, with deregulation and withdrawal from the COP21 Agreement, hopes to bring coal industry jobs back in the US. He seems to neglect the fact that the country, under the Obama administration, had been gradually creating more and more new jobs in alternative energy sectors, while the coal industry jobs are becoming less and less viable, both environmentally as well as economically.

Unfortunately the President Trump believes that the Paris Agreement empowers some of the other top polluting countries while it hinders American economic growth by crippling its industries. On the contrary, many US Cities, Mayors, States and Company CEOs have long been supporting the cause and are committed to help the US meet the global-emission-targets despite Trump’s withdrawal. The establishment of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (GGGI) program in 2009 was one of such pioneering initiatives undertaken by nine eastern states within the US.

Summary

In the age of globalization, people around the planet, automatically look up to the countries like the US and China and their leaderships to fight borderless disaster threats such as global warming and climate change.

As a global hub of technology, economy and advancements, one would naturally expect that the US would set examples and take progressive steps towards clean power plants, renewable energy generation as well as job creation in these sectors. Nevertheless, the reality on the ground is different.

The recent development in the US environmental policy landscape totally contradicts the above assumptions.

President Trump certainly needs to consider few good lessons from China which recently pledged to invest over US$350 billion in renewable power, expecting to create over 13 million new jobs by 2020.

However, let’s also not forget that we are talking about someone who doesn’t really believe in global warming or its effects on climate. That, quite frankly, is both ridiculous and threatening simultaneously.

The term globalization should imply inclusiveness but the current leadership of the US seems full of prejudices, selfishness and irresponsible acts which completely lack long-term vision and a decent sense of global well-being. This is no less than stepping down to tribalism in the face of globalization and a looming global crisis just round the corner.

Published Article: “Environment, Climate Change And American (Trump) Tribalism In The Face of Globalization”, New Spotlight Magazine, NEPAL, 1 September, 2017

Nepal National Building Code (NBC: 1994): Construction Safety and Fire Safety related provisions for Workers’ Health & Safety

Work Place Safety(Photo Source: Google)

Until the 1988 (2045 BS) Udayapur Earthquake in Nepal, we did not have any regulation or good practice document in place to guide earthquake safe construction in the country, although the disaster pointed us in the right direction. Under the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works (MPPW), the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC) developed the Nepal National Building Code (NBC) in 1993. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (UNCHS) and few domestic as well as foreign subcontractors’ teams provided their technical assistance in developing the NBC. 

The NBC implementation went into effect after the authorization provided by the Building Construction System Improvement Committee (established by the Building Act 1998). Following a government notice in the Nepal Gazette in 2006, the NBC implementation became mandatory in all the municipalities in Nepal.

Under the safety section of the requirements, the NBC included Construction Safety (NBC 114: 1994) standard and provisional recommendation on Fire Safety (NBC 107: 1994) standard. NBC 114 standard covers provisions for Health & Safety of workers in building construction/demolition works being performed under a formal contract between the employer and the contractor. In the case of owner-built construction sites the requirements are advisory. Similarly, NBC 107 provides fundamental requirements for Fire Safety in commercial, official or ordinary residential buildings.

NBC 114: 1994

Given below are the provisions for the maintenance of Construction Safety control measures and their corresponding safety requirements as per NBC 114.

Construction Safety - Nepal

  1. Material Handling – Safe storage and handling of materials including flammable liquids, explosives, mechanical equipment, adequate warning signs, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as well as slip, trip & fall protection.
  2. First Aid – First Aid facility including stretchers, paramedic and regular health checkups.
  3. Fire Fighting – Fire prevention measures including fire-fighting equipment, electrical safety and fire escape routes.
  4. Site Preparation – Site safety preparation includes prevention from falling, dust, flying/falling/piercing objects, etc. PPE such as hard hat, safety harness, safety goggles, mask, gloves, boots, etc. and first aid facility should be provided or available at all times.
  5. Excavation Safety – Trenching and excavation safety allows safety provisions such escape routes, precautions against the collapse of retaining wall or damage of service lines, oxygen masks for underwater/underground works, adequate fencing/barriers/barricades, etc.
  6. Foundation Construction – Application of safe construction design and practices including protection of health & property of workers/neighbors, reinforcing adjoining infrastructures, shoring of excavation walls in deep excavation, etc.
  7. Wall Construction – Provisions for safe manual/material handling of pre-cast elements/doors/windows, canvas-covered guard , scaffolding safety and adequate design of safe working platforms.
  8. Roof Construction – Slip, trip and fall protection by requiring safety harness & belt, designated walking/working platforms, railings and other protective guards including hard hat, safety boot and protective gloves.
  9. Electrical Works – Electrical safety program should require protective measures such as avoiding bare wires, not placing electrical equipment on wet floor, protecting floor-laid/overhead wires from moving machinery and workers, isolating combustible substances/clothing away from electric switch board/work, quick access to CO2/Dry Powder extinguishers, employing qualified electrician, covering of exposed high or low tension lines, etc.
  10. Temporary Works – Temporary works require safety provisions such as safe design of temporary framework structures, adequate load bearing capacity, ladder safety, guard/hand rails, etc.
  11. Demolition of Structures – Safety of workers and adjoining properties must not be compromised while undertaking demolition plan. Care must be taken regarding hazard communication including warning signs, barricades, posters, etc., bracing/shoring to prevent accidental collapse, disconnection of electric/water service lines, public safety, and prevention of slip, trip and falling objects.
  12. Requirements During Demolition – Other specific requirements during building demolition includes, adequate lighting arrangements for night demolition (only if night demolition is necessary), enough warning signs for public/workers, use of adequate PPE including hard-hats, goggles, gloves, boots, etc., fall protection measures, use of explosives only if approved by authorities.
  13. Use of Explosives – Explosives can be sued only after consulting engineers and authorities. Specifics must be maintained as per safety requirements such as marking/guarding of blasting area, appropriate audible signal before each blast, alerting workers/public/animals, adequate protection during controlled blasting in a confined space, safety of adjoining properties, strict supervision of authorities, record keeping of every minute detail of the operation, safe storage/handling of explosives.
  14. Labor Welfare – All workers should be provided with basic facilities such as drinking water, shelter outside the danger zone, toilets, adequate number/type of fire extinguishers, access to firefighting equipment, adequate safety clothing and PPE as demanded by the job, isolated storage of highly combustible or blasting materials away from labor settlement area, insurance against workplace accidents, etc.
  15. Other Safety Requirements – To ensure workplace safety, NBC 114 provides other safety requirements such as safe handling of moving vehicle/equipment, protection from falling structures/objects, installation of safety nets, restriction/control of people in construction or demolition sites, etc.

NBC 107: 1994

Given below are the provisions for the maintenance of the basic Fire Safety measures and their corresponding Fire Safety requirements as per NBC 107.

Fire Safety Nepal

  1. Types of construction and appliances
    • Provision of fire place and chimney where applicable
    • Elimination of fire sources near combustible materials
    • Encouragement to occupants to install applicable fire extinguishers
    • Sufficient water storage where open hearth or kerosene stoves are used
  1. Fire Zones
    • Demarcation of fire zones by coordinating with proper authorities in urban areas
  1. General Requirements
    • Adequate building designs for containment of fire and thus to reduce its spread to other buildings
    • Provision for wide enough access and wide/tall entry doors (as per Architectural Design Requirements NBC 206) to enable firemen to approach the building site
    • Sufficient escape routes and open spaces (as per Architectural Design Requirements NBC 206) to allow rapid evacuation of occupants
  1. Exit Requirements
    • Exit routes should be free of obstruction and with clearly visible signs
    • Stairs, Fire Escapes and Exit Doors should meet minimum NBC 107 Requirements in regards to their design, size and location in the building
  1. Access to a Building
    • Compliance with applicable zoning requirements and road accessibility requirements
  1. Lightening Arresters/Conductors
    • Installation of lightening arresters/conductors as per NBC 107 Requirements

NOTE: The New Labour Act, 2074 (2017 AD): Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) related provisions

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