Myanmar has enacted a new Occupational Safety & Health Law (OSH) law that is poised to contribute towards greater workplace safety across a wide range of sectors including manufacturing. Until now, the law has received very few updates since 1951 and has been under discussion in parliament for the past six years. Given Myanmar’s growing role as a manufacturing hub, the new law has been celebrated as a major milestone towards improving workplace health & safety.
The new law has broadened the scope of industries covered and includes extensive obligations for employers. But what implications, if any, does it have for juvenile workers?
Identifying hazardous workplaces
While Myanmar’s new OSH law makes no specific mention of juvenile workers, it does place a strong emphasis on identifying work hazards and removing workers from harmful situations, which in turn can be good for factories in strengthening their protection of juvenile workers. For example, inspection officers, appointed by the ministry, may temporarily close a whole or part of a workplace if they detect dangerous workplace conditions, unsafe operations carried out by workers, detect hazardous materials or machines, or detect danger due to negligence or the imminent occurrence of an accident.
Inspection officers will also be tasked with making a list of workplaces where hazardous materials are used, carry out special inspections if needed and prohibit or restrict the use of such hazardous materials. The Factories Act from 1951, Amended in 2016, is very explicit about the tasks that young workers (under 18) can and cannot do. For example, it states that children are forbidden from working in hazardous conditions or environments that threaten their health & safety. They’re not allowed to operate dangerous machinery unless they’ve received the proper training or are supervised by experts and they may not lift heavy loads. It also clearly specifies the hours they can work and provides detailed guidance on the medical certificate that all under 18s must receive in order to work. The new OSH law therefore should be seen as a complimentary law to the Factories Act, 1951 when it comes to managing juvenile workers.
Employers have greater obligation to ensure workplace safety
The 2019 OSH law sets out the responsibilities of employers in ensuring workplace health and safety of all workers. Notable responsibilities which can benefit juvenile workers include:
Arranging health checks for workers to ensure they are free from occupational diseases
Assessing the risks of workplaces, processes, machines and materials used
Improving the workplace until it is safe and good for the health of workers
Providing appropriate protective clothing and equipment free of charge and ensuring workers wear them while working
Training workers to learn and observe first aid care, extinguishing fire, arrangements and systems to be applied in case of emergency, precautionary plans and likelihood of outbreak of hazards in the workplaces
Forming an OSH committee at the workplace level to steer the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases
Implementing notable safety measures including displaying safety warnings and instructions and reporting workplace accidents, diseases and poisoning
Making necessary arrangements to enable immediate reporting to the person in-charge of occupational safety and health or manager when a worker suffers from an occupational accident or his/her life or health is likely to be in danger
The law also specifies that employers must “make necessary arrangements in the workplace in order not to damage the health of female workers who are pregnant or breast-feeding.”
Implications for companies employing juvenile workers
While no specific considerations about juvenile workers are mentioned in the new OSH law, employers can use the new OSH law as a basis for providing protection to juvenile workers, while simultaneously aligning their juvenile worker management with international guidelines and the Factory Act, 1951.
Suggested actions for safeguarding the health and safety of juvenile workers include the following:
Keeping records of hazardous processes/tasks that juvenile workers should stay clear of
Compiling a list of positions suitable for juvenile workers
Limiting the working hours of juvenile workers
Implementing a data gathering system on accident reports
Challenges in implementation
While the new OSH law is a very welcome step towards creating safer workplaces, the law will face a number of implementation challenges as highlighted by the ILO: “To ensure its effective implementation, new decrees and regulations will need to be drafted, data gathering systems be put in place, and education and awareness raising programs expanded.”
In conclusion, the enactment of the new OSH law is a good and welcome start, which while not addressing the juvenile workers directly, provides factories with clearer guidance on hazardous work. In order to make a daily difference, the law should not be seen as a deterrence in hiring juvenile workers but instead as an important guidance that if implemented well, can strengthen the protection of juvenile workers and contribute to better workplaces for Myanmar’s youth.
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