Failure to comply with occupational health standards (OHS) has contributed to poor safety practices in the country.

At a seminar on construction safety yesterday, labour officer Phuntsho Dendup said that the non-compliance was mainly due to the resistance from employer and employees to adopt safety standards, lack of competency and knowledge on workplace safety and health, and poor habit of using safety gears.

“The nature of most construction industries were found to be hazardous and temporary, and so safety is not taken seriously,” he said. “Most are foreign workers, which makes it difficult to create awareness on safety and adopting our own safety standards.”

Phuntsho Dendup said a study, which will be published soon, found that the level of noise exposure and dust in all the industries in Bhutan is very high, which makes those working there highly susceptible to occupational diseases. However, he said Bhutan does not have data on occupational diseases.

“Even the annual health bulletin doesn’t have the data. We hope they will have in future, which would help shape and frame policies, laws and other standards on the OHS.”

Employers have also pointed out the high cost of safety equipment. About 67 work place accidents were reported from 2017-2018 to the labour ministry.

“But this is just a tip of the iceberg since many accidents go unreported and from those reported, around 52 percent of the accidents were from manufacturing industries and 40 percent from the construction industries,” he said.

It found that 200 of the 1,000 workers met with accident at workplaces and this was significantly associated with lack of training.

A total of Nu 6.64 million was paid as compensation to workers from 2014 to 2016.

“We lack research capacity, monitoring equipment, institutional linkages, trained professionals and funding,” he said. “We don’t have noise and dust monitoring equipment, no laboratory to analyse the samples to find out what type of chemicals the workers are exposed to and how harmful they are.”

Tshering Tobgyel from College of Science and Technology pointed out that construction safety has been neglected because of fragmented relationship between law and enforcing agencies. “It has been also found that safety rules are never followed at the worksite.”

He said there is a need to establish a strong legal and administrative safety infrastructure to address the safety issues and a central agency to regulate safety, among others.

Department of Roads (DoR) director general Tenzin said it is time occupational safety is given attention.

“It’s not about how difficult it is to implement safety rules or the cost of adopting it but about how much importance we want to accord safety at worksite,” he said.

He said the greatest share of responsibility falls on the labour ministry as the main regulatory authority on OHS at workplace.

Yangchen C Rinzin