Is your workplace safe?

The ideal set-up, however, is not being followed.

A constraint is the lack of government safety personnel to monitor violating firms. Villafuerte told the Kapihan sa SM City press conference Monday.

She said government cannot afford to hire enough safety officers due to budget constraints.

A substantial number of safety workers have also left for abroad where the pay is higher, she added.

Villafuerte  said the incidence of work-related sickness, injury or death has remained high through the years but compliance with reporting of work-connected accidents is very low.

Citing the Employees Compensation Commission report, Villafuerte said there were a total of 29,506 or an annual average of 4,917 work-connected death claims in the last six years.

The ECC approved 35,322 work injury claims in the same period or an annual average of 5,887 cases. In the same period, there were a total of 301,924 cases of work-connected sickness.

Villafuerte said companies must value the lives of their employees being their "most important resource." She said as an effect, there will be economic losses with around P30.3 million lost for P3,204 work-accident cases from 2000 to 2004.

According the Bureau of Working Standards, unsafe acts or behavior and unsafe conditions in workplaces are the causes of work-related accidents. An unsafe practice or act is a violation of an accepted safety procedure, which could lead to an accident.

Among the examples are, operating without authority, failure to use personal protective equipment, using defective equipment, overloading among other things. Examples of unsafe conditions are inadequate signs and warning system, excessive noise and extreme temperature.

To prevent accidents in the workplaces, employers are urged to have good engineering, education and training of employees and enforcement of safety measures.

Villafuerte said the department has ceased to inspect companies with more than 200 employees since 2004 and opted for the "self assessment" using a safety standards checklist. These are companies that operate with labor unions and organizations.

Of the estimated 5,000 companies asked to self-check in 2005, only 725 or 14.5 percent have reported their assessments.

Only three of those companies were found to have violated general labor standards, including occupational safety.

Villafuerte said the poor compliance in reporting assessments, does not give a  full picture of occupational safety in the country.

In Southeastern Mindanao, Labor regional director Atty. Ma. Gloria Tango said voluntary compliance to "technical safety" is 100 percent but she clarified that occupational safety is lumped with the assessment on compliance to General Labor Standards, which is at 53 percent in the region.

Villafuerte said they are working on a recognition program for companies that put up safety measures and are meeting with chief executive officers of companies to advocate safety measures in their workplaces.

Engr. Larry Seril, head of the Association of Safety Practitioners in the Philippines, Inc. said cost and corporate culture are among the reasons why companies are resisting safety measures. ASSPI is composed of safety professionals hired by companies.

But Villafuerte said businessmen should view occupational safety as an investment. "If they look at safety measures as expensive, then they should try accidents," she said.