Amongi calls for lung health care

Amongi calls for lung health care
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By Thomas Kitimbo 

In a compelling address at the Second Lung Science and Health Symposium, the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development Hon. Amongi Betty in her message presented by Francis Odong Gimoro the Commissioner Occupational Safety and Health in the Ministry, highlighted the critical need to prioritize occupational lung health under the theme "Occupational Lung Health: Protecting our lungs while we work."

The symposium, held on November 30, 2023, brought together distinguished academicians, researchers, and key stakeholders.

The Minister acknowledging the dedication of attendees, emphasizing the often-underestimated importance of safety and health at the workplace. “You will agree with me that we have all yearned to have such a moment, considering the importance of healthy lungs for not only work but human survival. Matters of safety and health at work are usually underrated by those who are not informed.” Quoting Article 39 of the Uganda Constitution, the Minister reiterated every Ugandan's right to a clean and healthy environment. “Every Ugandan has a right to a clean and healthy environment.”

Referring to the International Labour Conference's decision in 2022, the Minister emphasized the inclusion of "a safe and healthy working environment" in the International Labor Organisation's fundamental principles. The address underscored the global obligation for member states to uphold the principles concerning the fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment.

The Minister posed a critical question to the audience, "What can you do without good health?" Stressing that health is paramount for productivity, she asserted that quality labour is the most crucial factor of production. A healthy, motivated, and contented workforce, according to the Minister, is fundamental to a nation's social and economic well-being.

Statistics presented from the recently released National Labour Force Survey (NLFS) 2021, revealed that Uganda's workforce consists of 23.5 million people exposed to various hazards. The primary objective of occupational safety and health management, the Minister explained, is to prevent or reduce the burden of injury and disease among workers. “Maintaining a healthy labour force is essential for household poverty reduction through economic production, productivity and sustainability. Occupational safety and health (OSH) management is, therefore, a social protection strategy.”

Collaboration among stakeholders, including the government, employers and workers, was emphasized. The Minister highlighted the government's obligation to promote workers' safety and health, with the Department of Occupational Safety and Health overseeing the management of OSH in the country. “Employers must provide safe and healthy workplaces and safe systems of work. Workers must work in as safe a manner as possible, follow lawful instructions from the employer and take reasonable care for himself and other workers who may be affected by his actions or omissions.”

She added that a worker has the right to remove himself from any dangerous situation without punishment from the employer as long as this can be proved by the Commissioner. “Suppliers, designers and manufacturers must provide safe products and accurate information about the safe use of materials and equipment.” Minister Amongi Betty emphasised.

The symposium's focus on lung health emphasized the importance of employers implementing measures to control and minimize exposure to respiratory hazards. The Minister stressed the significance of proper risk assessment to identify hazards, likelihood, and impact for effective resource allocation.

Recent workplace hazard exposure assessments across various industries, including cement factories, flower farms and paint factories, were discussed. Findings indicated toxic working environments, especially in cement factories, where workers are exposed to toxic cement dust, posing a significant risk of lung-related conditions.

Mitigation measures, the Minister noted, should extend beyond personal protective equipment, placing emphasis on prevention, substitution, engineering controls and administrative measures. The Minister affirmed the government's support for efforts to improve lung health, including the review and implementation of relevant policy frameworks. “Government through my Ministry fully supports efforts of the Institute in improving the health of lungs of not only workers but the whole Ugandan population. We shall continue to do workplace monitoring, provide technical guidance and do training to stakeholders where necessary to ensure compliance to the laws.” Amongi emphasised.

Participants were challenged to contribute to reducing risks in hazardous work environments, citing examples such as artisanal miners exposed to mercury in gold mining and Jua Kali workers spraying vehicles in garages, traffic controllers at the road junctions in cities and towns who are exposed to dust and exhaust fumes, the people who work in quarries and the mothers and children crushing stones for a living.

“How much research has been done to alert policies makers with facts and figures about causes, effects and mitigation measures for lung ill-health? This symposium should provide the necessary steps to answer these questions.” Minister Amongi questioned, extending a call to research efforts, urging participants to provide policymakers with facts and figures about causes, effects and mitigation measures for lung ill-health.

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