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Cement factory death mobilizes Albanian trade unions on safety

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23 November, 2018Trade unions in Albania rapidly organized a health and safety seminar on 18 November following the tragic death of a cement factory worker last month and an increase in the number of victims of workplace accidents and diseases in the country.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Albania (SPMSH), in collaboration with the Centre for Labour Rights (CLR), organized the national seminar for 55 trade union representatives and others responsible for occupational health and safety in the cement, mining and heavy industry sectors.

There have been 531 mining deaths in Albania as a result of poor working conditions over the past 50 years.

SPMSH President, Mr Gëzim Kalaja, said the aim of the seminar was to raise awareness of health and safety and to prevent accidents at the workplace. The law on occupational health and safety is vitally important to trade unions and it must be implemented and enforced correctly and seriously by the responsible institutions.

The seminar was attended by various safety experts including the Regional Chief Inspector Mr Ardit Shabanaj, Ms Frosina Gjino and Mr Edison Hoxha from CLR, who spoke about health and safety in the mines, such as the rules on technical safety, handling of maintenance and repair work, the role of the rescuers, and specific aspects of the mining industry, as well as occupational health and safety in the cement industry.

Participants also discussed the role of the occupational health and safety council, and the overall situation of occupational health and safety in Albania.

IndudstriALL’s director of health, safety and sustainability, Brian Kohler emphasized the importance of viewing occupational health and safety as a system underpinned by workers’ rights: to know about the hazards of their work; to refuse or shut down unsafe work; and to participate fully in health and safety decision-making. Understanding an accident at the workplace should not be seen as an opportunity to blame the worker, even when an employee’s actions might seem negligent, because the investigator must understand that those actions made sense to that worker at that time. The question that must be asked is, WHY did it make sense to act in that way at that time? He also drew the attention of trade unions to their confrontation with new developments and labour market dynamics, digitalization and robotics at work, and so on.

The seminar was also attended by representatives from the Trade Union of Food, Agriculture, Commerce and Tourism and the Trade Union of Oil Workers of Albania. Fushë-Krujë, from the cement factory in Elbasan where the worker died on 19 October 2018, spoke about occupational health and safety from his union’s point of view providing an insight into the reality of industry safety in Albania.

At the end participants concurred that seminars on occupational health and safety related topics should be organized as frequently as possible and should be extended to all levels in all mining and heavy industries in order to prevent accidents at the workplace and occupational diseases.