Strengthened Occupational Safety and Health Standards in the Workplace under RA 11058
With the enactment of Republic Act No. 11058, Filipino workers are given better protection in the workplace. This law ensures safer workplaces by requiring employers to provide complete safe work procedures, information dissemination about work-related hazards, safety and health training, and protective equipment. Workers are also encouraged to have a better understanding of the risks that come with their occupations, to know that they have the right to refuse unsafe work, to report accidents, and to participate in the safety and health program of their employers.
What Establishments are Covered by the Law?
The law covers all establishments, projects, sites, including Philippine Economic Zone Authority establishments, and all other place where work is being undertaken in all branches of economic activity, except the public sector. The rules implementing the law (the “IRR”) explicitly mention:
(a) Establishments located inside special economic zones and other investment promotion agencies;
(b) Utilities engaged in air, sea, and land transportation; and
(c) Industries such as mining, fishing, construction, agriculture, and maritime.
The rules also cover contractors and subcontractors, including those engaged in the projects of the public sector.
What is a Covered Workplace?
The law defines a covered workplace as establishments, projects, sites and all other places where work is being undertaken wherein the number of employees, nature of operations, and risk or hazard involved in the business, as determined by the Secretary of Labor and Employment, require compliance with the provisions of the law.
There are three levels of establishments. These are High Risk Establishments, Medium Risk Establishments and Low Risk Establishments. A High Risk Establishment is a workplace wherein the presence of hazard or potential hazard within the company may affect the safety and/or health of workers not only within but also persons outside the premises of the workplace, with a high level of exposure to safety and health hazards, and probability of a major accident resulting to disability or death or major illness is likely to occur if no preventive or control measures are in place. Medium Risk Establishments are those workplaces where there is moderate exposure to safety and health hazards, while Low Risk Establishments are those with a low level of danger.
Duties of the Employer
Accordingly, the law imposes upon employer the following duties:
(1) Furnish the workers a place of employment free from hazardous conditions that are causing or are likely to cause death, illness or physical harm to the workers;
(2) Give complete job safety instructions or orientation to all the workers especially to those entering the job for the first time, including those relating to familiarization with their work environment;
(3) Inform the workers of the hazards associated with their work health risks involved to which they are exposed to, preventive measures to eliminate or minimize the risks, and steps to be taken in cases of emergency;
(4) Use only approved devices and equipment for the workplace;
(5) Comply with OSH standards including training medical examination and where necessary, provision of protective and safety devices such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and machine guards;
(6) Allow workers and their safety and health representatives to participate actively in the process of organizing, planning, implementing and evaluating the safety and health program to improve safety and health in the workplace; and
(7) Provide, where necessary, for measures to deal with emergencies and accidents including first-aid arrangements. The IRR also require employers to comply with all reportorial requirements of the OSH standards; and register establishment to DOLE as provided under the OSH standards.
Workers, on the other hand, are expected to participate in ensuring compliance with OSH standards in the workplace. The worker shall make proper use of all safeguards and safety devices furnished for the worker’s protection and that of others and shall observe instructions to prevent accidents or imminent danger situation in workplace. Workers are also enjoined to report to the supervisor any work hazard that may be discovered in the workplace.
Workers’ Rights Under the Law
Under the law, workers have the following rights:
(1) Right to Know – Workers must be appropriately informed by the employer of all types of hazards in the workplace and be provided access to relevant training and education on safety.;
(2) Right to Refuse Unsafe Work – Workers may refuse to work without any threat of reprisal from the employer if, upon the determination of the DOLE or the safety officer, that there is an imminent danger situation that exists in the workplace. Neither can the employer require workers to return to work when there is a continuing imminent danger. If such imminent danger was the result of the employer’s fault, the employer shall pay the affected workers their corresponding wages during the period of the stoppage of work.
(3) Right to Report Accidents – Workers are also have the right to report accidents and dangerous occurrences to the employer or the DOLE and other concerned government agencies, they shall be free from any form of retaliation form the employer.
(4) Right to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The workers are also entitled to PPE, that shall be free of charge. Failure to provide PPE affords the worker the right to refuse work.
Occupational Safety Health (OSH) Program
The law requires employers to have an Occupational Safety Health (OSH) Program with the following guidelines or information: a commitment to comply with OSH requirements, general health and safety guidelines related to drugs and illness control, details of company projects, the composition of the OSH committee, the safety personnel and facilities, safety training and education, accident reporting, worker wellness, emergency preparedness , waste management systems and prohibited acts. Such program is subject to the approval of the DOLE.
To ensure the enforcement of the OSH Program, employers are required to have an OSH Committee. The committee shall be composed of a representative of the employer as the chairperson, the respective safety officers of the company, contractors and subcontractors, health personnel if applicable, and representatives from the workers. Along with the OSH Committee, Safety Officers help ensure that the OSH program is followed, these officers ensure overall management of the OSH program and assist government agencies in the conduct of inspections and issue work stoppages when necessary.
All covered workplaces shall have qualified occupational health personnel such as physicians, nurses, certified first-aiders, and dentists duly complemented with the required medical supplies, equipment and facilities. The number of health personnel, equipment and facilities. The number of health personnel, equipment and facilities, and the amount of supplies shall be proportionate to the total number of workers and the risk of hazard involved, the ideal ratio of which shall be prescribed by the DOLE.
Consistent with the Labor Code, the Secretary of Labor and Employment (SOLE) is given visitorial powers to ensure compliance with RA 11058. The SOLE is also given the power to delegate to a competent government authority the conduct of industrial safety inspections. The employer, project owner, general contractor, contractor or subcontractor, if any, and any person who manages, controls or supervises the work being undertaken are jointly and solidarily liable for such compliance.
The law also provides for prohibited acts punishable by fines. These include willful failure or refusal by the employer, contractor or subcontractor to comply with OSH standards or orders from the SOLE, this can include acts of concealing or facilitating such noncompliance. Administrative sanctions are also imposed on repeated obstruction, delay or refusal to provide the SOLA access to the workplace, misrepresentation in relation to compliance with OSH standards and taking retaliatory measures against workers who give information relative to inspections done by the SOLE.
The law passed by Congress gives concrete recognition to rights of workers in certain field of business. This law helps ensure that the constitutional policy to aid labor is enforced especially in workers may be put in harm’s way due to the nature of the business conducted by their employer. With stricter standards and more powers to enforce the same, the safety of these workers can be assured under the law.