The report on the proposed National Occupational Safety and Health (NOSH) Act 2014 published in the Amandala newspaper of January 29, 2014 needs the full and immediate attention of all Belizeans; especially small businesses in the service and fabrication sectors.
While the passage of this law is intended to enhance workers’ safety at the job-site, it will have other effects and may bring unintended consequences to the workplace of all business owners, including small repair shops, agricultural producers, fabricators and others. Every employer or employee needs to become educated and engaged in the discussion of this far-reaching proposed law.
Essentially, the proposed law seeks to establish in Belize, recognized rules, regulations and practices that many other countries have standardized to increase workers’ safety. That is a good thing. And most reasonable people will agree that improved worker safety at dangerous places such as construction sites are long overdue. Those of us with reasonable logic will also agree this is another step forward for our manufactured products and services to become internationally compliant and competitive. It is a noble effort spearheaded by the National Trade Union Congress.
The reality with these types of legislation, however, is that Belize flagrantly disregards our rules and regulations. Adherence to many existing laws is minimal. And many legal observers will tell you that we are a country of “good laws” with little compliance and no enforcement. Why create these hairy-legged animals when our history shows we are not serious about enforcement?
As an example, recent legislation to curb the “tinting” of motor vehicles in this country has already been squeezed, stripped, peeled and thrown aside by the general populace. Hundreds of motor vehicles in Belize are now back on the streets with “super dark tint” in full violation of the law right under the watchful eyes of the enforcing authorities.
Legislation that was passed a few years ago explicitly stating that all electrical workers should hold a valid Electrician, Electrical Technician or Engineer license has become a paper tiger. Today in this country, unlicensed electrical workers carry out complete electrical installations right under the watchful eye of the Belize Electricity Limited and the enforcing authorities.
Our past performance in the enforcement of legislations that were natural precursors to this NOSH has been “lousy,” to use a kind word. Therefore as a tradesman and small-business owner I would caution that we do not create another hairy, hundred-legged animal that adds unnecessary layers of bureaucracy to government and becomes a burden on taxpayers. Perhaps all that is necessary is to revisit existing safety laws with a view to updating them for these modern times.
There are many other aspects of this NOSH Act 2014 to consider ( including the financial costs to industry) and I invite everyone to join in this conversation as we seek to find balance between our small industries becoming internationally competitive while ensuring improved workers’ safety.
At the end of the day, as we strive to strike that balance, we should consider that Belize’s agricultural, fabrication, manufacturing and service sectors are too fragile to bring forth heavy and unnecessary legislation that will become an impediment to our production, innovation, and competitive efforts.