Improving occupational health and safety among micro, small and medium wood processing enterprises

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is a multidisciplinary field concerned with the safety, health and welfare of people at work. OHS is an important topic for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) because it is an area where capacity is generally low, in particular among micro enterprises. Non-compliance with the relevant laws and regulations are commonly observed throughout the Mekong region. Poor OHS practices can have a negative impact on the welfare of workers, resulting in poor performance and low productivity. On the other hand, improving OHS drives good business practices, ensures continuous operations and reduces pollution.

Key messages

  • While Occupational Health and Safety is commonly regulated through specific laws in Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, capacity among MSMEs to comply with standards is generally low.
  • There is an excessive focus on completing the job order, which leads to OHS being treated lightly. In MSMEs, regular employment is often challenging due to their irregular operations, so OHS training is rarely offered. And there are few interactions between MSMEs and the local authorities responsible for ensuring that enterprises operate properly.
  • As a result, accidents among MSMEs in the wood industry are common. Accidents and exposure to hazards can lead to workers’ illnesses, disabilities and inability to work and generate livelihood. For the business owner, they can result in decreased productivity, low quality of service, and ultimately higher production costs.
  • EFI piloted improving the capacity of MSMEs on Occupational Health and Safety by implementing training and coaching in pilot projects in Lao PDR and Viet Nam. This resulted in improved compliance with the requirements, increased efficiency, removal of fire hazards and safer working conditions for employees.
  • Based on the pilot experience, the briefing makes the recommendations for OHS trainings, including the following:
    • OHS should be included in the factory’s policies and regulations to ensure the commitment of business owners and workers.
    • An assessment of the factory should be conducted before the training to better understand the conditions of the workers and the facilities.
    • MSMEs are commonly located in the village housing area. Aside from protecting the MSMEs’ workers, it is also the owner’s responsibility to protect the neighbourhood from dust, wooden flying debris, loud noises and fire hazards. Awareness about this responsibility should be built into trainings.
    • It is critical to mention from the beginning that OHS is a continuous process and is not a one- off training and action point.
  • EFI has made the training materials used in the pilot projects available on its website. The training materials include drawings and photos of operations observed in the Mekong region. They can be used to raise awareness about OHS and suggest practical solutions to typical hazards and accidents in the wood industry.