Recent weather uncertainties have led to frequent episodes of intense rainfall followed by thunderstorms and flash floods that not only interfere with outdoor work but also put workers' safety at risk.
Climate experts predict that extreme weather events, which are linked to climate change, will persist. Thus organisations must pay close attention to the safety of their at-risk employees.
According to Mohd Anuar Embi, deputy director-general (occupational safety) for the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), failure to do so could result in legal ramifications.
Abide by safety SOP
He said that in order to protect their safety, both employers and employees must keep track of weather changes and adhere to the relevant standard operating procedures (SOP), which are described in the rules, policies, and laws on occupational safety and health.
Section 15 (1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 states that it is the responsibility of every employer to ensure the safety, health, and welfare of all workers, including those in outdoor work environments such as construction sites. He also issued a warning to employers who disregarded the safety of their workers.
An employer who violates the Act may be subject to a fine of up to RM50,000, a jail sentence of up to two years, or both.
Additionally, according to Mohd Anuar, every employer must complete a risk assessment regarding the safety and health risk posed to any individual who might be affected by his job at the place of work under the recently amended Occupational Safety and Health Act (Amendment) Act 2022.
He added that DOSH continually focuses its enforcement activities on the construction sector to ensure the safety of the workers and the general public.
"Those convicted of this offence (failure to conduct risk assessment) can be slapped with a fine of up to RM500,000 or jailed for up to two years or both."
Inspections across Malaysia
DOSH conducted 16,707 site inspections across the country last year and handed 327 compounds worth RM633,000. Fifty-two additional cases were brought to trial, with fines totalling RM777,500.
Mohd Anuar said DOSH is putting in place a variety of long-term measures to raise the level of workplace safety and health and decrease the number of workplace incidents, particularly those brought on by weather-related risks.
The actions include passing new legislation and amending existing legislation, such as the Occupational Safety and Health (Amendment) Act 2022, to ensure that regulations on the construction industry are up-to-date and appropriate.
He added that DOSH supported the application of the Occupational Safety & Health in Construction Industry Management 2017 guidelines.
He said that these guidelines emphasise the duties of all parties, including the project owner, designer, and builder or contractor, from the beginning of construction through the demolition stage to identify and regulate occupational safety and health risks and prevent any adverse incident.
Additionally, he said that efforts are being made to upgrade these recommendations into necessary requirements for all construction players.
The rights of workers
Mohd Anuar said his department had taken proactive measures to ensure that similar incidents do not occur again in response to a viral video in February of this year depicting a group of high-rise building maintenance workers trapped in a gondola that violently swayed after it was hit by strong winds.
One of the actions mandates companies to carry out a risk assessment at the workplace and take the required precautions to avoid unwanted incidents. The Occupational Safety and Health (Amendment) Act 2022 contains provisions for this.
The Act states that workers are entitled to remove themselves from any imminent danger at the place of work, including during bad weather.
"If the worker has already told their employer or representative that they have reasonable justification for believing there exists an imminent danger at their place of work, they have the right to remove themselves from the place of work if the employer fails to take any action to remove the danger.
"… and a worker who removes themselves from danger is protected (under the newly amended Act) from undue consequences and discrimination," he said.
Observe weather warnings
Datuk Ahmad 'Asri Abdul Hamid, the chief executive of the Construction Industry Development Board Malaysia, stated safety and health officers or construction site supervisors must constantly have a good level of preparedness to face any scenario in the case of dangers posed by adverse weather at the worksite.
It will require developing the relevant SOP and risk management practices to guarantee the safety of the staff and their workplace.
According to him, both employers and employees need to be aware of weather changes and warnings issued by the government, particularly the Malaysian Meteorological Department.
The safety officers and supervisors at construction sites must prepare reports for their worksite's hazard identification, risk assessment, and risk control.
According to Ahmad 'Asri, at this time, training programmes linked to the safety and health of construction workers already include some elements relating to climate change's impact. However, the provision of more thorough and detailed information on the threats brought on by climate change still has room for improvement.
One of the training initiatives they are concentrating on is the use of the manual and guidelines for construction that is flood- and landslide-resistant.
"We have released safety guidelines, ISO certificates, and construction industry standards to be used at construction and maintenance sites, including safety attire, safety equipment, and work safety rules," he added.