Workplace safety plan a hazard, say critics

Workplace safety plan a hazard, say critics

Proposal to revoke need for a degree has caused a stir

Proposed changes to the Occupational Health and  Safety Act of 2011 have brought heavy criticism from labour and safety advocates. (Photo via Creative Commons)
Proposed changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 2011 have brought heavy criticism from labour and safety advocates. (Photo via Creative Commons)

With the Labour Ministry poised to allow companies to hire anyone to work as safety officers rather than being required to recruit only staff who graduated with a degree in occupational health and safety, educational institutions and students have voiced strong opposition to the idea.

This proposed relaxation of the 2011 Occupational Health and Safety Act appears in Section 13(4) of the ministry's new draft regulations, which allow anyone with a bachelor's degree in any field of study and five years of work experience to undergo a 222-hour training course to become a safety officer.

Every company with at least 100 employees is currently required under the Act to hire a qualified safety officer.

Assoc Prof Sarawut Suthammasa, dean of the School of Health Sciences at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said he had only learned about this move by the ministry a few months ago and promptly submitted his formal objection to the plan.

He ruled out the possibility that anyone without an educational background in occupational health and safety could become a qualified safety officer in the claimed 222-hour training period.

An unidentified 32-year-old safety officer with eight years of experience said that in the four-year study programme she had completed, she took courses on physiology, parasitology, epidemiology and many other subjects that could never be completed in less than two months.

"This imminent change in the ministry's regulations will lead to compromised standards of work safety," she said.

Many employers tend to be reluctant to invest in improving workplace safety and working conditions as recommended by their qualified safety officer, she said.

Safety officers are required by law to submit a report to the ministry every three months regarding conditions at their place of employment and are held responsible for any damage or injuries caused by substandard occupational health and safety.

Assoc Prof Sarawut also wasn't convinced by the ministry's reasoning that the proposed relaxation of the 2011 Act will ease the difficulty some companies face in recruiting a graduate with a degree in occupational health and safety.

There currently 35 universities and institutions offering undergraduate programmes in this field, while three of them also offer a postgraduate course, he said.

A fourth-year student in the Industrial Hygiene and Safety programme at the Faculty of Public Health of Burapha University said the proposed change to the ministry's regulations regarding the qualifications for safety officer positions will make it more difficult for him to find a job after graduation as employers are likely to send existing staff on the training rather than add to their headcount.

Wisut Ruangrit of the Federation of Thailand Automobile Worker's Union agreed that the change will be seen as a loophole that many employers will exploit by sending someone they can control, and therefore lacks the independence to report accurately on conditions, to be trained to become their safety officer.

Sombun Sikhamdokkhae who works for the Work and Environment Related Patient's Network of Thailand (WEPT) said the proposed relaxation of the Act is proof of how little the ministry values safety in the workplace.

She said she had learned from the information provided by workers at various companies that most employers do not want to hire a qualified safety officer simply because they do not want to pay a high salary to ones someone with a degree in the subject.

Wiwat Tanghong, acting director-general of the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, said he would relay these concerns to the department's committee for discussion before the labour minister endorses the draft.

An HR officer who did not wish to be named, however, said a number of small companies, mostly in the provinces, genuinely have problems recruiting someone with a degree in occupational health and safety because most of the qualified safety officers tend to look for a job at a large company in Bangkok or other large cities where they can expect higher pay.


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