It has been established that small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) are very key to the development of any economy. It is also a fact that the best economies in the world could not have attained such heights without the involvement of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs).
Small and Medium Scale Enterprises as cooperate entities do not run themselves. Enterprises are run by people. And for the people who run these enterprises to be more productive and contribute to the growth and development of their companies, which in turn will have positive effect on their country in particular and the continent in general, there must be a deliberate effort by owners of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their people (employees). The question is how seriously do enterprises in Africa take the safety and health of employees who make these enterprises what they are? I believe strongly that no community develops when its people feel unsafe and unhealthy. Hence the need for Managements of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises to do more in ensuring that the safety and health of their workers are given priority by developing an all encompassing Management System, which must have HS-Management (Health and Safety – Management ) as a prominent component.
Recently I was searching through the International Labour Oganization’s (ILO) website and I found a very interesting programme which was implemented in the Philippines, tagged: WISE (Work Improvement in Small Enterprises). The package was created to help WISE trainers to carry out their trainings for Small Enterprises and to enable them manage the workplace changes in their enterprises.
I love the programme because experience has shown that many owners of businesses in Africa are not very much aware of the hazards involved in their businesses and how these hazards affect their employees. For the ones who may be aware, they may not do anything about the safety and health of their workers, because safety is mostly seen as a cost in production. To make matters worse, Governments in Africa have not shown the right level of commitment to issues relating to occupational safety and health. There is gross inadequacy of government regulations on occupational safety and health and lack of follow-through enforcement for the few documented policies.
The occupational safety and health areas of concern, which the WISE trainers were directed to train business owners in included “Material storage and handling, Work-station design, Productive machine safety, Control of hazardous substances, Lighting, Work-related welfare facilities, Premises, Work organization.” – (Work Improvement in Small Enterprises Package for Trainers from ILO Website) This list emphasizes the fact that no area of work should be left unattended in terms of safety and health provisions. For example, workers must have enough information about materials and substances they work with. Because of the poor level of safety culture in Africa, workers are usually driven more by what they will get from a job in terms of wages. For this reason, workers do not give attention to their health and safety. Every material or substance has a label or an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). Employers must ensure that workers are informed or shown what is contained in such documents to enable the worker take safety precautions to protect his health and be safe. There was an experience where workers where handling some substances and they and their supervisor did not have any information regarding the hazards relating to the substances until the newly employed Safety Manager had to get the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) and use them to orientate the workers. The workers were so surprised learning about such hazards. A point from this is that all what an owner of an enterprise needs is to get a professional Health and Safety person to ensure that issues relating to the safety and health of the workers are well catered for. It is wrong for workers to come to work and get occupational illnesses or injuries.
Small and Medium Scale Enterprises must recognize the fact that as they grow, and contribute to the development of their individual countries and the African continent in general, they cannot get to greater heights without meeting global standards in terms of quality and occupational safety and health. Remember, when your people (employees) are safe and healthy they become more productive.
I also wished that the WISE programme or any similar programmes can be introduced in African Countries. As a Nigerian, we need any programme that can promote an improve level of safety culture.