By Khaila Gentle
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug. 3, 2022
The Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) Bill is aimed at ensuring safe working environments for employees in Belize through the establishment of minimum standards for safety in the workplace. The Bill was first tabled in the House of Representatives in January 2014, but the process of implementing it has been a painstakingly slow one. According to Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) president Marcello Blake, though, the bill is being revisited, and the Chamber has finished its final review of it.
“We have actually concluded all the reviews, and what we’ve done now is created a marked-up version of the bill. So, instead of having what we were looking at—documents and Excel sheets and all of that in different parts—we’ve compiled all of that into the bill, so there’s a marked-up version that unions are going to review,” he said.
Blake informed the press that, after the unions have conducted a final review, the Bill’s stakeholders will submit their joint position on it in writing to the Minister of Local Government (Hon. Oscar Requena) for consideration.
When the bill was first introduced eight years ago, the then Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, stated that while the objectives of the OSH Bill were “laudable”, implementing it would come at a huge financial cost.
In the January 28, 2014 issue of AMANDALA, Barrow is reported to have said that “it is perhaps time, and maybe even overdue, that Belize makes this quantum leap forward.”
“But, let nobody be under any illusion about the substantial burden and cost that will come to the Government, as regulator and employer, as well as to the private sector, including small business persons and self-employed individuals, who will also have to become compliant—even if they employ just one person,” he added.
Soon after the bill was tabled, numerous stakeholders in the business sector and various industries raised concerns about various parts of it, including the proposed introduction of fines which, according to the BCCI, could easily cripple any small business.
Back in 2019, shortly after the tragic death of two construction workers at the Belize City Civic Center, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a statement declaring that it fully supported and had always been committed to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Bill.
The two workers died after a platform on a scaffolding collapsed and sent six men plummeting to the floor that lay some 50 feet below them. The other four workers received extensive injuries. Jose Contreras, a witness to the tragic incident, told AMANDALA in an article dated Friday, September 13, 2019, that one man had pointed out the fact that the scaffolding was faulty, noting that the 2×6-inch piece of lumber supporting the platform “had a belly” and needed to be replaced.
While the BCCI had called for amendments to be made to the bill, in its 2019 statement it also noted “the record will show that at no point has the BCCI ever opposed the Bill itself.”
Today, the Chamber maintains that while it is important to continue to look out for employees and ensure that they are working in a safe environment, “it can’t be to the detriment of businesses.”
“Also in [the bill], it shares the onus of the responsibility, because the employee is just as responsible as the employer in cases where there are health and safety issues, and so it is important that we continue to ensure that our members are going to be adhering but also covered from certain levels of risk where the employee chooses not to utilize the resources that have been given to them by the employer,” said the BCCI president.