INDUSTRIAL Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix stated yesterday that although some employers felt that providing a safer working environment would negatively affect their profits, the reality was that it actually saved money and provided the business with a better reputation.
Thomas-Felix was delivering the feature address during a special sitting of the Industrial Court, Port of Spain, to mark the opening of the 2016-2017 law term.
The sitting was attended by fellow judges, lawyers, trade unionists, and Police and Social Welfare Association president Insp Michael Seales.
In the beginning of her presentation, Thomas-Felix paid heed to the country's worsening economic climate, stating, “We continue to see an upsurge in crime and criminal activity in a sea of economic instability and uncertainty as declining oil and gas revenues globally has caused governments to rethink about their shrinking economic pie as a new paradigm is required to navigate through a changing economic environment.”
She urged the country's “social partners” to re-examine their demands as well so as to provide the strategic flexibility necessary to cope with the current economic crisis but she quickly added that citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have been resilient and victorious over economic and social challenges in the past.
She called on nationals to dedicate themselves to the task of determining what we want for ourselves and society, adding, “Our social partners should come together to assist in social transformation and teach the basis tenets of development as in what kind of Trinidad and Tobago we want.”
102 fatal work accidents
As Thomas-Felix painted a positive scenario about what the country could be with the help of the Industrial Court even amid declining revenues she also reminded citizens not to forget the human element in any country's economic development.
“A critical element of this (economic development) and indeed the court's remit is ensuring that rights of work and work standards are upheld and protected,” said Thomas-Felix.
She said that adhering to a higher standard of safety at the workplace, “not only benefits workers, but owners, the economy and wider society as well as it is a question of human rights equals workers' rights, good business and moreover that health of the citizen is important to any nation's development”.
Thomas-Felix explained that when there is an accident, “there is missed work and medical care that relate to the immediate consequences of the accident itself and then there is the indirect costs, namely loss in working hours, business closed down and damage to equipment and property and damage to the company's image as well as a lowering of staff morale”.
“Statistics provided by the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development reveal that for the period 2006 to 2015 a total of 102 fatal accidents occurred in the workplace. The industry with the largest number of fatalities was the construction industry, which recorded 33 fatal accidents for the period 2006-2015. One death in the workplace is one too many and we therefore should be concerned and very alarmed that there have been 102 workplace fatalities in nine years,” Thomas-Felix said.
Providing non-fatal statistics in the workplace by year “so we can appreciate the enormity of the problem”, she revealed:
2006 - 377 non-fatal accidents
2007 - 758
2008 - 1,059
2010 - 843
2011 - 904
2012 - 754 non-fatal accidents
Statistics for 2013 are not available, but in 2014 there were 686 reports of non-fatal accidents and in 2015, 895 non-fatal accidents were reported, she said.
The sector with the highest number of non-fatal accidents is the manufacturing sector with the lowest figure at 249 in 2014 and the highest at 555 in 2008, she added.
“These accidents and incidents, in my view, are to a large measure due to failures and deficiency in the policy and management of occupational health and safety in several businesses in this country,” Thomas-Felix said.