Enterprise Development and Competitiveness
Occupational Safety and Health [OSH] in Enterprise Development and Competitiveness is something that all companies should be interested in. However, from a Ugandan perspective are employees and employers ready to acknowledge that OSH can assist in enterprise development and competitiveness? These issues in today’s ever changing world are crucial to the aspirations of Uganda’s 2040 plan and of becoming a middle income country. Globally, we are much closer than ever as technology and our knowledge of what is happening in our world is almost instantaneous.
Globalisation and international standard setting brought about a more harmonised approach amongst countries. As trade markets changed and became more transparent,this meant that companies had to improve on their competitiveness if they were to survive. There are three major factors that determine competitiveness, namely innovation, quality of products and productivity. Each needs employees and employers to work together to bridge the divide that has for years separated these two distinct groups. This divide in many companies is still wide and deep and needs a huge cultural change to bring these groups closer together. OSH can be one solution that can assist in this area. Globally, there has been an emergence of a new culture [way of thinking] that can be summarised as “there is a need to invest in workers”. Linked often to ISO standards although not specific to OSH these standards of investing in people has clearly demonstrated the competitiveness and development of companies especially in many emerging countries as well as the so called developed countries. This has been achieved through training workers and also improvement in their working conditions.
Changes in management styles, which focus more on participation, co-operation and motivation has improved quality and productivity, but has brought about new and creative innovative ideas that have advanced businesses through workers initiatives. This change can galvanise small and medium sized businesses to grow, thus, employing more people and bringing more investment into Uganda.
OSH is part of successful businesses by helping them to maximise productivity, builds a more competent and healthier workforce, which reduces absenteeism and sickness, plus retaining early retirees. Losing people early, who are both skilled and knowledgeable, can have a dramatic influence on competitiveness, quality and productivity. When quality and productivity are high, companies are more than likely to retain their customers, increase their markets and bring about confidence in their business that also builds investors’ confidence. Thus, a win – win situation, which leads to expansion of the business and so the cycle continues. Other reasons are in saving on compensation claims, lower costs associated with poor quality, reduced insurance costs and enhances brand image and value. The question remains are Ugandans ready for this?
Another aspect that affects business is the growth in consumer action. This although not highly developed in Uganda is a way that consumers can have an impact on putting pressure on companies to comply by the rules, regulations and laws of the country. Uganda has the OSH Act No.9 of 2006, it is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation and has many workers NGO’s, who are trying to improve workers’ rights. Human Rights, the Ugandan Constitution all support and promote the rights of people and therefore workers. Companies who do not comply should face the consequences of their action. We the consumers can assist by reporting failures in compliance or to report good management practices. This could be one way to promote OSH within Uganda.
In emerging economies such as Uganda’s, we have certain characteristics, which tries to prohibit the growth of OSH. These surround large population density especially through the growth of slum areas around cities. Poor literacy accompanied by low cost, low knowledge workers and the unemployment burden in the country allows workers to be exploited. The large informal sector also plays a huge part in having poor OSH knowledge and skills and often a sector where they have no idea what OSH actually is. Accompanied by this is the large number of people working in the agricultural sector. These issues are likely and have caused the growth rate to stagnate based on poor infrastructure and OSH can be the stick that moves it forward. Unfortunate, but true is the fact that it is our emerging economies that the high incidences of occupational diseases and injuries are occurring and are set to increase by the year 2025 to 80%.
In countries such as Uganda the development of OSH systems leaves a lot to be desired, but here in Uganda we are lucky that there is a department at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development spearheading the development of OSH. The challenge they face is the lack of qualified health and safety professionals with the knowledge and skills to bring about the necessary changes.
Health and Safety career opportunities exist both at national and international level, but what is needed is for people from Senior 4 [leaver’s] right up to graduates and beyond to undertake OSH education and training. Vacancies exist right here in Uganda, but these are being filled by people with limited or no skills in OSH.
If we are to be competitive and build our companies we require qualified health and safety experts trained in different areas of OSH [oil and Gas; medical; construction; transport etc]. Companies need effective OSH policies and procedures, proactive risk assessment programmes, trained and competent workers, effective risk control mechanisms, ongoing monitoring and evaluation, but more importantly commitment and leadership to improve OSH. If this happens then Uganda’s growth and dreams can become a reality.
To assist this to occur, incentives can be put in place to promote OSH activities through award schemes and ranking of companies as is carried out in schools. As it is mandatory for all companies to be insured we could ensure that linking insurance costs to OSH performance is implemented. Also, as companies consider sub-contracting the OSH criteria could become part of the tendering process as some companies already do. Education and training courses are here in Uganda, so what are Ugandans waiting for. Let us change our culture from being reactive to proactive as the old proverb states “if you don’t change, change will change you”. This is perhaps the way forward as a motto for OSH in Uganda as we see our fellow east Africans moving forward and leaving us behind.