Workplace Safety More Than a Box-Ticking Exercise

Nov 25 , 2023
By Desalegn Zewdie

In a string of recent workplace incidents, the absence of adequate first aid response has emerged as an urgent issue, calling for more comprehensive training and better-equipped facilities. These events, which include a fall in a bank, a choking incident at a restaurant, and a construction accident, expose a critical gap in emergency preparedness in the workplace, pointing to a broader societal issue that transcends mere compliance with health and safety norms.

Like many emerging economies, Ethiopia is challenged by the need to balance rapid economic growth with the well-being and safety of its workforce. The recent episodes serve as a reminder that workplace safety, particularly the provision of first aid, is not just a regulatory requirement but a fundamental aspect of employee welfare and operational efficiency. The labour law, which lays out the duties of employers and employees, focusing on health and safety compliance, is silent on the specifics of first aid training and facilities. This omission is critical given the diverse nature of the Ethiopian workforce, which spans a broad spectrum from traditional agriculture to modern manufacturing and services.

At the heart of the issue is the perceived notion of first aid as a luxury rather than a necessity. This mindset often results in employers lacking to spend on first aid training and facilities, a short-sighted approach that overlooks the long-term benefits of a safe and prepared workplace. Adequate first aid provision is a moral imperative and a strategic investment. It has tangible benefits, including reducing workplace accidents, minimising absenteeism, and lowering the potential for costly litigation and compensation claims.

The incidents reported – a customer's injury in a bank, a diner's near-fatal choking in a restaurant, and a construction worker's fall – are manifestations of a widespread issue in the growing economy. These are not isolated events but indicators of a systemic problem that requires a multi-faceted solution.

Ethiopia's approach to addressing this gap needs to be both comprehensive and collaborative. The involvement of key ministries, including Health, Labour & Skills, Trade, and Construction, alongside mayor offices, is crucial in establishing clear standards and regulations for first aid in the workplace. This would include developing and implementing minimum requirements for first aid training, equipment, and facilities. Another step towards improving the situation is mandating first aid training for all employees and ensuring periodic refresher courses. Such a policy would not only elevate the general level of emergency preparedness but also instil a culture of safety and responsibility within the workforce.

Creating comprehensive emergency response plans for workplaces, with a designated number of first aid responders trained to handle more complex situations, is essential. These plans should be tailored to each workplace's specific needs and risks, ensuring a quick and effective response to any emergency.

In addition to regulatory measures, raising awareness about the importance of first aid is vital. Multi-modal campaigns can significantly educate employers and employees about the benefits of first aid readiness. Continuous evaluation and adjustment of policies and practices will also be necessary to ensure they remain effective and relevant.

The Ethiopian Red Cross has been a beacon in this regard, offering community first-aid courses that provide a foundation for such training. However, the lack of clear policies and guidelines at the national level impedes widespread implementation and integration into workplace practices.

Ethiopia's journey towards a more resilient and prepared workforce is not just a matter of regulatory compliance. It should be a reflection of its commitment to human dignity and the well-being of its people. The recent incidents should serve as a wake-up call, bringing to attention the urgent need for action in this crucial area. By prioritising first aid training and facilities, Ethiopia can safeguard its most valuable asset – its workforce – and consolidate the foundations of its growing economy.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 25,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1230]

Desalegn Zewdie (PhD) ( is a public health expert with more than a decade of experience teaching, conducting research and providing leadership in public health.

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