Workplace health and safety, also known as occupational safety, is about promoting positive well-being in terms of employee comfort, happiness, and contentment. This also entails employers providing a mentally safe environment for employees to thrive—mental health at work and work-related stress can lead to anxiety and depression, which are the most common mental health problems, experts say. For instance, when 30-year-old Claire Mutoni, an accountant, scooped the job of her dreams at a local IT firm, she was overjoyed. However, that joy was short-lived. Not only did she have to deal with a rude and condescending supervisor, but she also struggled to make friends as most of her colleagues gossiped more than anything. She said that the toxic work environment made her quit not long after. She believes that a happy workplace is not just about paying employees on time or giving them promotions, but one where employees and employers are free from the risks of illness, injury, and poor mental health. Whereas the World Day for Safety and Health at Work is observed annually on April 28, Rwanda celebrated the day on May 25, during which a workplace wellness programme was launched. But what does workplace wellness mean exactly? Safe and healthy workplace Gaspard Mpakanyi, Head of Department at Rwanda Workers’ Trade Union Confederation (CESTRAR), said a safe and healthy working environment should have a positive environment, defined by trust, cooperation, safety, risk-taking support, accountability, and equity. He further noted that a positive work environment has a calm atmosphere that leads to greater productivity, commitment, and a ‘can-do’ attitude with open and honest communication between colleagues. ALSO READ: How to prevent workplace accidents “A positive work environment is characterised by compassionate team members who support and empower each other, with positive reinforcement. The employer recognises the achievements of employees, provides growth opportunities, has a positive attitude, and stimulates positive-thinking,” Mpakanyi said. A positive environment values work-life balance and supports its employees’ well-being, and allows employees to feel comfortable, secure, and at ease when it comes to their physical and emotional well-being, he said. Mpakanyi said employers have the primary responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees, by complying with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, finding and correcting safety and health problems, and providing a workplace free from hazards. “Employers must also provide their employees with safe tools and equipment, prominently display the official OSHA job safety and health –inform workers about chemical hazards through training, and keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses,” he explained. On the other hand, employees have the responsibility to comply with health and safety standards under the OSHA Act. They are responsible for themselves, and employers are responsible for everything else. Employees are expected to follow safety rules and procedures, use personal protective equipment when necessary, report unsafe conditions to their supervisors, and participate in safety training programs, Mpakanyi explained further. Mpakanyi pointed out that employees have the right to refuse dangerous work, provided certain conditions aren’t met. Positive way forward Mpakanyi said the government has made it a priority to ensure safe workplaces for workers, for instance, with the launch of a workplace wellness programme. ALSO READ: Rwanda launches workplace wellness programme “The International Labor Organization (ILO) has provided support to Rwanda in developing its occupational safety and health system. Additionally, there are training courses available in Rwanda to help individuals understand how to create a safe and healthy workplace environment,” he said. However, Mpakanyi is of the view that Rwanda needs to adopt WHO guidelines and ILO standards on occupational safety and health of workers more effectively, especially with the Covid-19 outbreak. Mpakanyi said workplace risks have been documented in all sectors, including health and social services. Additionally, much of the work in Rwanda involves site visits to remote rural locations, which can be a challenge. According to Dr Celestin Mutuyimana, a psychotherapist at Baho Smile Institute (a psychotherapeutic and research centre), a safe and healthy workplace protects workers from psychological and physical problems which in turn increases job satisfaction and productivity. “For example, an unsafe environment is responsible for injury and illness, and negative mood among employees, a thing that can lead to a higher cost of treatment, increase absenteeism and turnover as well demotivation of the workers,” he said, adding that employers risk having a poor output and become unable to maintain a positive mood at work.