ILO April 23, 2013
The 40 degree Celsius heat cools down after a night of northern winds in the central province of Ha Tinh – one of the poorest parts of Viet Nam.
The drop in temperature is a great relief to the more than 30 workers at Hung Thinh rock quarry.
Dang Quoc Dai, a driller, is happy starting a new work day – with his gloves off and the mask in his shirt pocket.
“I usually don’t wear the mask and gloves, especially on a cool and breezy day like this,” the 32 year-old father of two children says.
The industry he has been in for the past three years is not only infamous for deadly work accidents, but also has an alarming rate of occupational diseases. Each year, thousands of workers become victims of diseases that can be fatal without proper treatment.
“Look! I’m healthy,” he shouts, to make his voice heard while placing his sun-burned and wrinkled hands on the drilling machine at a dusty mountain edge.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), silicosis – a lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust – is one of the common health problems experienced by workers in Viet Nam’s rock quarries.
In 2011, 76 per cent of occupational disease compensation in Viet Nam was related to silicosis.
The symptoms of this incurable disease usually take years to develop but can become acute under intense exposure, causing shortness of breath, hearing loss, weakness, weight loss and ultimately, death.
Self-inspection and training
To help prevent occupational diseases in the industry, the ILO Viet Nam office has started to develop a set of tools for self-inspection and training on safety standards at rock quarries. The work is part of the Japan-funded project, Occupational Safety and Health in Hazardous Work.
Violations of occupational safety and health regulations are common at rock quarries in Viet Nam, which are mostly small in size and use manual work. Enhancing self-inspection and training are important to save the lives of workers in this hazardous sector.
Each enterprise needs to self-inspect and train workers and direct production managers in occupational safety and health." “We don’t have enough state inspectors, so the only way is to promote self-inspection,” Vice-Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Bui Hong Linh, explains. “Each enterprise needs to self-inspect and train workers and direct production managers in occupational safety and health.”
According to the ministry (MoLISA), many workers in the industry are on short-term or seasonal contracts, which give them fewer chances for training, including on safety and health issues.
“They are mostly from the countryside and lack proper work skills and work discipline,” says the Vice Minister.
Managers themselves tend to play down the real extent of the problem. While visiting the production site amidst the silica dust, the chief supervisor at Hung Thinh rock quarry, Le Thao Trung, has no protection mask on.
“Why do you need masks when the weather is so pleasant? We only need them for hot days when it becomes really dusty,” he says.
Tran Dinh Thang, director of another quarry in Hong Linh District, in the province of Ha Tinh, does not know which type of mask he should buy for his 40 workers.
“We distribute new masks twice every year and they are all the normal type [without filters]. We have a budget of about VND30 million (more than US$1,400), a year to buy protection tools but I honestly don’t know which ones suit quarry workers best,” he explains.
The Hong Linh mountain range, that has inspired many artists and musicians, is the home of 13 rock quarries, generating jobs for some 1,000 locals in Hong Linh District. Workers in the industry – by law – should have two full medical examinations every year. However, only seven enterprises sent their workers to the local preventive medicine centre for health checks last year. The centre gave most of the examined workers “Grade A” health certificates, although it does not have any proper equipment to detect silicosis.
Promoting better understanding of OSH
The self-inspection tool developed by the ILO in cooperation with MoLISA, is expected to promote a better understanding of safety and health issues in the quarries.
Instead of government regulations on OSH, which are difficult to understand and are scattered over various documents, a user-friendly inspection checklist will be provided to enterprises - particularly smaller ones in the industry – together with training.
Decent work is safe work." “If enterprises and workers know the requirements, such as those relating to the concentration of dust, dynamite explosions, health checks and safety equipment, they can follow them on their own or with our help, to ensure a safe workplace,” ILO Viet Nam national project coordinator, Nguyen Thai Hoa says.
Fortunately, this is also what many quarry managers like Tran Dinh Thang are looking for.
“We want to be shown what can be done to improve working conditions in the quarries,” he says.
For ILO Viet Nam Country Director, Gyorgy Sziraczki, creating a safety culture could make work “life-giving and not life-taking”. After all, he says, “decent work is safe work.”
Originally published at International Labour Organization