Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) is rallying employers to ensure there is adequate occupational safety and health compliance so as to prevent work-related injuries and promote employee protection. In collaboration with the Ministry of Public Service and Labour, on February 9, RSSB concluded a five-day workshop on occupational safety and health in five surveyed economic sectors – agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining, transport sector, construction, and manufacturing. In 2022, RSSB, in collaboration with other stakeholders, commissioned an assessment whose purpose was to evaluate the status of occupational safety and health (OSH) in Rwanda and conduct trainings among employers. It was conducted to inform policy and planning mechanisms for government, employers, employees, and all actors, towards creating safe and healthy workplaces and controlling occupational injuries’ burden to employees, employers, and the country at large. To achieve the objectives of the assessment, sampling was done considering small enterprises (with 4-30 workers), medium enterprises (employing 31-100 people) and large enterprises (over 100 employees). Using statistically acceptable sampling methodology, the assessment was carried out on 376 enterprises, as per data from RSSB. Indicators considered include protecting employees, interns or apprentices, from manually handling chemical products that may cause risk to them; whether employees, interns or apprentices wear necessary occupational health and safety protective equipment, and that equipment is used at appropriate time; and reporting occupational hazards, diseases and deaths to labour inspectors and RSSB. The problem at hand On the burden of poor occupational safety and health, the assessment indicated that in the fiscal year 2021/2022, seven fatal injuries were reported in mining and quarrying economic activity; four in agriculture, forestry and fishing; four in construction; and one in manufacturing. No fatal injury was reported in the transport and storage economic activity. As indicated, 102 non-fatal injuries were reported in agriculture, forestry and fishing economic activity, 68 in mining and quarrying, 58 in manufacturing, 31 in transport and storage, and 27 in construction. Another concern was that in manufacturing, 23 workers were incapacitated (suffered from injuries that made them unable to do their work again), 10 workers in agriculture, forestry and fishing, 10 in mining and quarrying, nine in construction, and three in transport. Overall, the assessment found that all the five economic activities surveyed had a high-risk level; with agriculture, forestry and fishing topping the list, while manufacturing was the last as it had a relatively better performance in terms of occupational safety and health compliance than the others. Towards a remedy To deal with the problem, the assessment recommended, among other things, that enterprises in the sectors in question should comply with all laws and regulations since the assessment revealed that non-compliance with legal requirements is directly proportional to the increase of the level of risk in the enterprise, and vice versa. Also, as noted, they should ensure that all cases of deaths and injuries should be reported to labour inspectors and RSSB, and all employees are affiliated to RSSB and their contributions are paid regularly. RSSB Chief Benefits Officer Dr Regis Hitimana said that the expenses that RSSB covers regarding occupational hazards were on the rise, implying the magnitude of the issue and the need for greater effort to address it. For instance, he said, from July to December 2023, occupational hazards insurance paid about Rwf1 billion to cover benefits for slightly over 3,000 affected workers. The money includes payment for health services offered by health facilities for work-related hazards such as a worker suffering from an accident on the way to work, or an employee’s arm cut off by a machine. Ensuring occupational safety and health benefits employers and employees through improved productivity at work but also protects the employees and the community at large, from the loss caused by injuries and diseases, he observed. Citing data from the Labour Force Survey conducted in 2022 by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, Hitimana said that Rwanda’s working age population [aged 16 years and above, up to retirement age of 65] was more than 7.9 million, and that about 4.5 million of them were in the labour force. But he pointed out that employers were paying pension and occupation hazards contributions for only more than 700,000 workers, underscoring the fact that majority of employees were excluded from these formal social security schemes. According to him, this situation infringes on workers’ rights and social security protection. He urged employers to endeavour to ensure that their personnel enjoy such benefits. Dr Jean Pierre Kabarega, the officer in charge of occupational hazards and diseases prevention at Bralirwa, a brewer and soft beverage company in Rwanda, said that investing in occupational safety and health is necessary and cost-effective as it has many benefits. He said that one of the challenges was lack of knowledge on what occupational safety and health is and the best way to ensure occupational safety at the workplace – an issue that was addressed by the RSSB workshop. “In fact, when we all go to work, no one wants to suffer from an accident or disease related to work for them to receive treatment later,” he said, adding that employers face penalties for damage caused to employees because of non-compliance with occupational safety and health measures and that the associated cost is high. Chantal Bizimana, a human resource officer at Sulfo Rwanda, a personal care and cleaning products manufacturer, said that occupational safety and health is critical as it reduces hazards including accidents at work. “When workers are protected against accidents, productivity increases,” she said, adding that when some employees are injured and spend time away from work, it can result in a situation where others are fatigued because of being overworked.