OCCUPATIONAL safety and health laws in Malaysia have evolved from the prescriptive Factories and Machinery Act 1967 to the self-regulating Occupational Safety and Health Act (Osha) 1994.
The self-regulation will now be enforced by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health via the Occupational Safety and Health Master Plan 2025 to control risks in the manufacturing sector.
Over the years, many surveys and studies conducted by academicians and institutions have found that compliance with Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) regulations is not widely practised by small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
In addition, the surveys found a large proportion of SME management personnel could not be considered competent in knowledge, skill and ability to execute OSH in their companies. Usually only the safety and health officers in the companies had in-depth knowledge of OSH requirements.
SMEs represent a vast majority of the workforce all over the world, including in Malaysia.
There is a general perception that SMEs are characterised by hazardous and unsafe working conditions with poor management strategies to minimise workplace risks. Generally, the only strategy they adopt is providing personal protective equipment.
SMEs tend not to have a formal system of safety management. In addition, they may have poor access to supportive organisations or trade associations that could advise them on OSH.
In Malaysia, through Section 30 of the Osha, workplaces with 40 or more employees must establish a joint OSH committee. Such committees will be an important element in the self-regulation that will be implemented soon by DOSH.
Smaller SMEs are usually involved in operations that are not technologically adapted. The risk of work accidents is higher in such companies compared with the larger SMEs.
The main reasons for a lack of OSH regulation in such SMEs are the negative perception that it will cost money to comply with all relevant health and safety laws and that there is no tangible return of investment.
Safety starts at the top. Many companies have a zero-accident policy statement; however, it is well-known that there is always a gap between policy and actual practice.
DOSH, through its Occupational Safety and Health Master Plan 2025, will be implementing programmes to improve OSH at company-wide levels.
One of the programmes is the Comprehensive Induction Module on OSH which must be rolled out to the full spectrum of company employees.
After the roll out, all company employees will hopefully understand the importance of OSH regulations and the importance of achieving the Vision Zero objective of no accidents.
WONG SOO KAN