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Kenya: union calls for improved safety standards as worker dies in furnace accident

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31 March, 2022Kenyan unions are calling for better occupational health and safety (OHS) standards in the steel manufacturing industry after a worker was burnt to death in an open furnace accident at Blue Nile Steel Manufacturing factory in Thika. Blue Nile, which manufactures galvanised wire and other steel products, is one of the largest steel manufacturers in the country.

According to the Kenya Engineering Workers Union (KEWU), Caleb Otieno, a health and safety shop steward for the union, is said to have fallen into the open furnace on 25 March during his normal work routines as one of his hands got stuck as he pushed metal bars into the furnace. The family was given only his ashes for burial.

Kenya’s Occupational Safety and Health Act outlines the responsibilities of the employers and the workers on health and safety at workplaces. For example, employers are responsible for ensuring that plant and factory procedures reduce the risks to health and safety. This contributes to accident prevention. Further, employers must provide a safe working environment and conduct regular risk assessments. The law also states that employers must provide information and training on OHS as well as personal protective equipment.

Rose Omamo, IndustriALL Sub Saharan Africa regional co-chairperson says:

“This is an unfortunate and preventable, horrific accident. The steel manufacturers must adhere to health and safety standards as set out in the laws. We commiserate with the family which is going through the trauma of the death of their relative and pass our condolences. As trade unions we will continue to demand safety at work and compensation for the employer’s negligence.”

“We call on the government of Kenya to investigate this accident and to deploy OHS inspectors to conduct compliance visits aimed at improving safety standards and saving workers’ lives. The implementation of national and international standards is crucial to the elimination of accidents from the factories and in making them safer for workers,”

says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa.

IndustriALL Sub Saharan Africa region has set up an online health and safety platform to discuss how unions can demand better demand health and safety standards at work as part of the decent work agenda. The platform will assist workers to deal with OHS challenges at the workplaces, conduct training and policy development, revive and strengthen trade union structures, and improve social dialogue on OHS matters.

File photo: steel plant in Egypt, 2008

Copyright : Marcel Crozet / ILO