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Corona Reveals the Inadequacy of Implementing Occupational Health and Safety Standards in Jordan

Experts confirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic revealed challenges and gaps in the application of occupational health and safety measures in the enterprises, and the need to develop national programs and policies that allow workers to continue work safely.

This issue emerged in an online dialogue session held by Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies to discuss a report entitled “The Impact of Corona on Occupational Health and Safety in Jordan”, as part of a series of specialized sessions held by Phenix Center in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation on “COVID-19 and the Labor Market”.

In the introduction, Phenix Center’s director, Ahmad Awad, stressed the crucial importance of occupational health and safety, representing one of the criteria for decent work and a prerequisite for satisfactory and just working conditions, as stipulated in the Jordanian Constitution, the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mr. Awad indicated the necessity of applying occupational health and safety standards in the workplace to preserve the worker’s right to life, representing one of the highest standards of human rights, in addition to preserving human resources and personnel, while enhancing productivity and smooth production processes in various economic sectors.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the advisor to the Secretary-General at the Ministry of Labor, Najah Abu Tafesh, said that the Jordanian occupational safety and health policies and standards are relatively in line with the relevant international standards, but there are challenges in their implementation, where the pandemic prompted the need to develop these policies and standards further.

Ms. Abu Tafesh emphasized that the efforts of the Ministry of Labor, since the beginning of the pandemic, have focused on fighting the transmission of the virus through business establishments. Finally, she announced that the Ministry of Labor is currently reviewing various of these policies and procedures.

Indeed, in order to face the challenges that have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Labor have taken some new measures, including the development of an electronic inspection system through which injuries and accidents can be reported immediately, depending on the level of danger of the facility and not only the number of workers. Mrs. Abu Tafish acknowledged that now is the time to create a comprehensive database of work injuries and accidents.

The head of the occupational sanitation department at the Occupational Health Directorate in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Munther Abu Fayyad, stated that workplaces are of vital importance to prevent and control the spread of the COVID-19, and appropriate safety and health measures at work can play a decisive role in containing the pandemic while protecting workers and society as a whole. In addition, of course, governments, employers and workers have their own roles to play in addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Munther Abu Fayyad indicated that the Public Health Law forms the basis for the Ministry of Health’s work in preserving citizens and workers in different work environments, while the Ministry of Labor is the main reference in applying occupational safety and health standards. The Ministry of Health needs to obtain an authorization from the Ministry of Labor to provide medical service, and the Ministry of Labor is concerned with issuing occupational health and safety policies. Dr. Munther Abu Fayyad stressed that, within this framework, the COVID-19 pandemic represents a “biological danger” that goes beyond the internal work environment and therefore requires developing specific measures to confront it, and the Ministry of Health, within its capabilities and priorities, dealt with this case.

The director of the Occupational Health and Safety Directorate at the Social Security Corporation (SSC), Eng. Firas Shatnawi, confirmed that occupational safety and health’ requirements are often dealt with in an unprofessional (non-scientific) manner, with a partial (selective) and non holistic approach. The Social Security Corporation believes that most of the institutions that are required to apply occupational safety standards adhere to them, however the issue lies in their sustainability, as in most  enterprises there are no experts in this field.

The Social Security Corporation is currently developing procedures for evaluating occupational safety and health conditions remotely. By using a form that includes relevant standards, business enterprises can evaluate themselves. Then, this evaluation is reviewed by the Social Security Corporation which can accept it or not according to the inspection procedures that follow.

The expert on occupational safety and health and disaster management, Mr. Ismail Al-Masri, pointed out that the Jordanian occupational safety and health legislation and standards are outstanding, however, the problem lies in the lack of implementation. This is mainly due to a lack of understanding of the safety system in a holistic perspective. He pointed out that occupational safety represents a responsibility of the enterprises towards their employees, and indeed, many Jordanian business establishments apply even higher standards than the Jordanian ones. Mr. Al-Masri criticized the lack of supervision and inspection, and believes that non-planned visits to work sites are more effective than scheduled visits. Mr. Al-Masry believes that the COVID-19 pandemic had the positive effect of forcing us to draw an increased attention on the respect of occupational health and safety standards, and he encouraged the workers themselves to get trained on how to protect their health and safety while dealing with machines.

The participants emphasized the need to enhance the application of occupational safety and health standards stipulated in various Jordanian legislations and international standards, by intensifying coordination between the concerned official bodies, including the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health, the Social Security Corporation and the General Directorate of Civil Defense, in order to improve inspection and monitoring efforts on business establishments.

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