Martina Zaccaro UNDP Partnership for the Future, Cyprus
To mark World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we accompanied Fatma Terlik, health and safety focal point for the UNDP Partnership for the Future Programme in Cyprus, as she toured various on-going construction sites.
With more than 55 civil works contracts awarded in the past five years – ranging from 10,000 to 25 million euros each – and approximately 800 workers employed – health and safety quickly became a priority issue for UNDP in Cyprus. Fatma’s site inspections are all-encompassing, as she inspects personal protection equipment, scaffolding, emergency situation plans, first aid, manual handling and tools to make sure they meet standards.
“At first, people did not respond very well to our efforts here, but after a series of on-site training about the advantages of these policies, they have come to understand and appreciate that it is for their benefit,” says Fatma as we drove to the first site visit of the day.
According to local statistics, in 2010, in the northern part of Cyprus, the manufacturing industry was the occupation with the highest number of registered accidents (70 recorded accidents), followed by the construction sector with 56 registered accidents. Despite these numbers, the northern part of Cyprus has made tremendous efforts to minimize the risks and reduce the number of accidents and injuries in the workplace.
“Lately, there has been a huge increase in awareness of health and safety practices at work in the northern part of Cyprus,” says Fatma.
As of this year, all enterprises operating in the northern part of Cyprus need to have a health and safety risk assessment report in place, and a certification exam, and the completion of a four month training programme is requested of all health and safety inspectors.
“This has encouraged a better understanding and implementation of health and safety policies that are essential for a healthy working environment,” says Fatma.
According to global statistics from the International Labour Organization (ILO), a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease every 15 seconds, and every 15 seconds, 160 workers have a work-related accident.
The Partnership for the Future programme in Cyprus has been working on health and safety in the work place since 2005 through its Private Sector Development project for the Turkish Cypriot community.
When the first training session and workshops were organized on European Union (EU) regulations and standards, early in 2004, almost no information was available to Turkish Cypriot enterprises on the requirements and advantages of complying with these regulations. The Occupational Health and Safety standard (OHSAS 8001) was one of the first EU standards to be covered by UNDP awareness seminars.
“We had a lot of difficulty convincing our employees that they had to follow these new rules,” said one who participated in the private sector development programme and, thanks to UNDP and EU support, received his OHSAS certificate in 2005
“They didn’t want to wear helmets or other safety equipment. We tried to convince them that this was for them and not for the company. We did training sessions and in the end we had to set up penalties. But now it has been four years, and the employees that have been through this process with us don’t want to leave the company. They understand the importance of this.”
From the coffee shop restoration site in small villages, the almost completed municipal market in old Nicosia, improvement and rehabilitation of minor and major town centres, the construction site of the new Nicosia waste water treatment plant, to the renewal of water distribution networks, UNDP regularly checks that health and safety regulations are observed thoroughly on-sites inspections and this is done by constant liaison with site supervisors and contractors.
On each site visit we spoke to workers, engineers and construction workers about the health and safety measures put in place in their work. Did they feel safe working? Were the conditions right? Did they feel like UNDP went the extra mile to provide a suitably safe and healthy environment to work?
“The basic idea of protecting yourself and others at work has slowly but surely become a part of everyday living not just for workers but employers as well,” says Fatma. “Knowing that with my job I am contributing to create a safer working environment for my colleagues and workers makes me feel proud.”
World Day for Safety and Health at Work is an integral part of ILO’s global strategy on occupational safety and health.