Workplace accidents: Gov’t looking to impose hefty fines, stronger penalties on businesses

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Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton says the fines and penalties laid out in Guyana’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act are “useless” and so, a review is underway to make them stronger.

Already for the year, Guyana has recorded more than 20 workplace-related fatalities, all of which could have been prevented had there been adequate safety systems implemented, according to the Labour Minister.

Even though fines are in place to sanction employers, Hamilton pointed out that those are “useless” and “mere pittances”.

According to Chapter 99:10 of the Act, companies can be fined as low as $5,000 for obstructing Labour Officers from conducting investigations into work-related accidents and $7,500 for failing to equip workers with the necessary safety gear.

Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton (Photo: News Room/November 30, 2021)

The fines in the Act go as high as $50,000 with the addition of three-month imprisonment for varying infractions, including failure to report a work-related accident that has maimed or resulted in a death. And those fines, the minister pointed out, does nothing to correct the situation.

“The fines are a mere pittance, so even if you win, you lose because the fines do not deter companies from operating in the right way,” Hamilton told the News Room on Tuesday during an interview.

Now, a framework has been set up following a meeting with the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC to review the existing fines and penalties and replace them with heavier ones.

“What we have recommended is substantial fines…you see the current fines we have, they are useless so we want substantial fines,” Hamilton contended.

But even with substantial fines in place, Hamilton believes that the  “unsafe culture” in Guyana needs a drastic change.

“This is not just a Labour Ministry matter, or an employer and employee matter; this is a matter of culture and it is Guyana that has to change regarding workplace safety.

“We keep having engagements with all and sundry but if the culture does not change, we will continue to prepare to go wake houses and play dominoes and cards,” the Labour Minister stressed.

Thus far, a total of 25 workplace deaths have been recorded with the mining sector claiming the most lives – 12.

The construction sector had four fatalities for the year with the most recent being the death of 16-year-old Amar Dindyal who fell from the roof of a steel structure under construction at Vilvorden, Essequibo Coast, Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) on Saturday.

The agriculture/ fishing sector claimed three lives while the logging sector claimed two. Moreover, the maritime, manufacturing, aviation and service sectors each recorded one workplace-related fatality.

And of those 25 deaths, only one woman was among the list; the rest were all men.

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