Myanmar has a long history relating to occupational safety and health. The Factories Act which is the principal legislation with regard to hours of work and rest as well as safety and health in industries was first introduced into Myanmar as far back as 1913 during the time when Myanmar was a British colony. Since then various updated versions of the Act was introduced culminating in the Factories Act of 1934. The Factories Rules were promulgated in 1935 to supplement the 1934 Factories Act.
Myanmar gained back her independence from the British in 1948. One of the first legislation to be enacted after independence was the Factories Amendment Act of 1948 which updated the 1934 Factories Act. Soon after, in 1951, a new Factories Act written in the Myanmar language was enacted and the 1934 Act repealed. The 1935 Factories Rules however continued to be in force by a provision of the 1951 Factories Act though they need to be updated.
The Factories Act (1951) has detail provisions regarding workplace safety including safety of building and machinery, safety in the use of machines and industrial processes, safety in use of lifts and hoists; safety in the use of hazardous substances; safety related to dangerous/explosive/inflammable fumes and gases; arrangements against fires etc. The health provisions of the Act includes adequate ventilation and lighting of workplaces; removal of dusts and fumes harmful to health from workplace; avoiding overcrowding; provision of safe drinking water; provision of adequate number of latrines for the workers and proper disposal of wastes of the factory etc. The welfare provisions include first aid facilities, washing facilities and places for taking meals etc. Another legislation relating to safety and health of workers in the petroleum extraction industry, is the Oil Fields (Labour and Welfare) Act (1951).
The Factories Act (1951), together with other legislation relating to other rights of workers of Factories, Shops and Establishments are administered by the Factories and General Labour Laws Inspection Department (FGLLID) of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security.
Besides, other Government Agencies are also involved in Occupational Safety and Health at workplaces. They are the Boiler and Electrical Inspection Division of the of the Ministry of Industry, which administers the Boiler Act and the Myanmar Electricity Act; the Planning and Inspection Department of the Ministry of Mines which administers the Mines Act dealing with hours of work and rest as well as safety and health of workers in mines. Then there is the Dock Labourers’ Act pertaining to safety in loading and unloading operations of ships by dockworkers; the various Rules and Orders pertaining to public health and safety issued by the Yangon City Development Committee and ‘Municipalities’ of other cities and towns; the functions of Occupational Health Division of the Department of Health under the Ministry of Health and safety and health provisions included in other legislation.
Recent legislation relating to Occupational Safety and Health enacted during the term of the new Government include Laws relating to the Environment; Safety in the use of Chemicals and Hazardous Substances; Boiler Act; Electricity Act among others. Furthermore, with the enactment of new legislation pertaining to local and foreign investment, the pace of industrialization has increased considerably. Together with the Industries established within the Industrial Zones, the newly emerging Special Economic Zones and the small and medium private industries elsewhere all over the country, there are more than 100,000 industries in operation, manufacturing a large variety of products both for export and local consumption. There are also many small and medium establishments providing technical services to the public.
Hence there is an emerging need to ensure the safety, health and welfare of workers employed in the various factories and industrial establishments. This is particularly true for the newer private sector industries the employers of which have increasingly become aware of the importance of safety and health at their workplaces.
It is learnt that a new Occupational Safety and Health Law has been drafted by the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security with the participation of representatives of the various regulatory Agencies pertaining to occupational Safety and Health as well as the participation of the private sector. Under the new and comprehensive OSH Law, a Central Body would be formed to co-ordinate various activities of the present regulating agencies charged with administration of various aspects of Occupational Safety and Health. Supporting the OSH Law would be the Rules and Regulations pertaining to safety which will update existing provisions of the Law and Rules covering the entire field of Occupational Safety and Health.
Another observation relating to OSH is that Myanmar has been participating in the activities of the Asean Occupational Safety and Health Network (ASEAN-OSHNET) since 2000. The Seminars and Workshops and Training Courses conducted under the OSHNET have been helpful in capacity building of the Safety and Health Personnel of the FGLLID and safety personnel of the public and private sector industries. Besides several Development Partners have been providing technical assistance in conducting training courses for capacity development of the OSH professionals of the FGLLID and personnel responsible for safety in the various Industrial Enterprises.
It is felt that in Myanmar, safety and health training at the grass roots level should be further enhanced. As such resources, expertise and technical assistance of the ASEAN-OSHNET, the ILO and the Development Partners would be needed in helping to implement Occupational Safety and Health Training Programs on a sustainable basis.
Training Courses on various aspects of OSH for personnel of the Departments under the Ministries concerned as well as representatives of the Employers’ and Workers’ Organizations will be supportive of awareness and practice of OSH in Myanmar.
In addition, it is felt that enabling OSH practitioners (Safety Engineers, Occupational Hygienists etc.) attend specialized courses at home and abroad, including advanced courses on assessment of workplaces for hazard identification, assessment of major hazards and prevention of major industrial accidents in high risk industries will contribute to effective implementation of the OSH Law in Myanmar.