Occupational health and safety policy in the operations of the wood processing industry in Kumasi, Ghana.

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Wood products contributes about 11% of Ghana’s foreign exchange, 6 % of GDP, employs over 100,000 workers and provides a livelihood for over 2.5 million Ghanaians (Owusu, 2003). Despite this contribution to the economy, the operations of the Wood Processing Industry (WPI) are generally associated with high levels of occupational hazards with consequent risk to health. The purpose of the study was to assess occupational health hazards exposure and the effectiveness of the policies (if any) put in place to ensure the health and safety of workers, in the Wood Processing Industry. One hundred and eighty workers and thirty one managers/ supervisors from fourteen randomly sampled Wood Processing Companies in Ahensan, Asokwa and Kaasi industrial area in Kumasi were used for the study (three from large, seven from medium and four from small scale). Secondary data on industrial accidents from Kumasi Metropolitan Labour Department (KMLD) and Department of Factories Inspectorate (DFI) for Ghana among others were used. Primary source of data was also obtained through observation, semi-structured interviews and individually administered questionnaire; about perceived health hazards, injuries (sustained in 2004), measures taken to mitigate effect of hazards in work places, health and safety policy and protective equipment used. Sawdust extractors had been installed in eight WPI to reduce saw dust exposure (main hazard workers perceived to be exposed to) but more than 40 percent perceived the extractors to be inefficient. Of the workers who produced saw dust, 54.8 percent, 50.0 percent and 33.3 percent in the large, medium and small companies were provided with nose masks. These workers claimed to use the nose masks, however most of the workers had their nose masks on their forehead because they claimed it to be uncomfortable. The perceived exposure to noise were more than 89 percent and efforts made at managing noise levels were mainly in the provision of ear muffs and regular maintenance of equipment. The companies surveyed provided and maintained appropriate means of fighting fire. Other perceived hazards were heat, ergonomic and mechanical hazards but there were low use of personal protective equipment. Perception of unsafe working environment increased with decreased in size of company. Most managers perceived insurance coverage as protection of workers against occupational accidents. Two large and one medium size WPI out of fourteen companies surveyed had submitted Occupational Safety Health (OSH) Policy in May 2004 to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Kumasi as part of their Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for free zone operation. However the supervisors and workers in all the companies were not aware of the existence of their company’s OSH policy. There were no significant difference in the practices and the use of PPE at the factory floor in all the companies surveyed. The companies which had OSH policy kept health records, performed pre-employment medical examination and had a clinic on site. The industrial accidents records for the WPI in Ghana at the DFI 1998-2003 was between 360% to 980% less than that recoded at KMLD for Kumasi metropolis alone It appears that Workmen’s Compensation provided an incentive for the higher notification record of industrial accident in the WPI at the KMLD. Hence the statistics at Labour Department may provide close to the true reflection of industrial accidents in the country, than those in the DFI which has been extensively used in the past. The existing legislations appear outdated and therefore do not provide enough deterrent for non compliance. Thus presently the operation of the OSH legislation is centered on the compensation of industrial accident rather than prevention because DFI is not sufficiently resourced to carry out its mandated role of inspection, education and enforcement of Factories Offices and Shops Act (Act 328). The government should adopt a National Policy on Occupational Health and Safety to show it’s commitment towards OSH and also review legislations on OSH to make enforcement effective.
A Thesis Submitted to the School of Graduate Studies. Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Science in Development Policy and Planning, 2005