Safety and health at work in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

A factory worker receives medical attention.©ILO/M.Crozet
The activities relating to occupational safety and health (OSH) is operationalized through priority outcome 2: Strengthened democratic governance of the labour market of the Decent Work Country Programme for Sri Lanka 2013-2017.

Occupational Safety and Health is a sector that deals with safeguarding the most valuable and indispensable human asset of any country, its’ workforce. - not only those who are in wage employment , but also includes all working population that engages in some kind of self economic activity which contributes to national development.

The ILO estimates that approximately 2.2 million people die every year from occupational accidents and diseases, while some 270 million suffer serious non-fatal injuries and another 160 million fall ill for shorter or longer periods from work-related causes. The total cost of such accidents and ill health have been estimated at four percent of the worlds gross domestic product. In Sri Lanka about 4,000 accidents are being reported yearly and the number of working days lost due to accidents is estimated to be around 600,000 workdays every year.

Many of these deaths and diseases can be prevented through effective occupational health practices and awareness raising and by inculcating a safety culture within the workforce. The ILO works with its constituents to build national capacities to raise awareness of the preventability of many occupational injuries and diseases. Thus, reliable labour protection should receive the high priority it deserves as a healthy workforce is critical for the achievement of sustainable economic development and a productive working life.

In Sri Lanka, considerations on Occupational Safety and Health was confined to Mines and to the relevant machinery since year 1896 till 1950, and extended only to Factories under Factories Ordinance to-date. The shortcomings in relation to Occupational Safety and Health coverage in the formal sector is a key concern, as only about 30 per cent of the labour force is covered by the main statutory provision on OSH.

Realizing the need for wider coverage and taking on the responsibility of the State to ensure a safe and non-exploitative work environment for all Sri Lankans, the Ministry of Labour and Trade Union Relations has embarked on formulating new legislation in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, with technical assistance from ILO. The new Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act has been approved by Cabinet and is expected to be presented to Parliament for adoption.

To institutionalize the supporting activities associated with the introduction of the new OSH legislation the Ministry has established the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.(NIOSH) The Institute will be responsible for all relevant studies, researches and analysis and setting up of National Standards on Occupational safety and Health. ILO will provide assistance in implementing the new Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act which will provide a safe and a productive environment to all workers.