Japanese And Other Asian Labor Organizations Participate In OSH Training Projects

by Naoki Toyama
Tokyo Occupational Safety and Health Center

Many programs have been actively carried out in Europe and North America to empower labor unions and citizens groups in the Third World. Among these initiatives is a project by the Japan International Labor Foundation (JILAF), a non-profit organization established in 1989 by the Japan Trade Union Confederation (Rengo). JILAF has been undertaking these projects known as "positive seminars" focused on occupational safety and health since 1994, in collaboration with another non-governmental organization, the Institute of Labor Science. The project is characterized by its interactive approach It is based on the other partners initiatives or specific request to dispatch relevant staff and help organize 'hands-on' training sessions. The projects have been successfully undertaken in Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Mongolia.

Participatory training requires well-organized preparations. Before they start the seminar, the trainers visit some workplaces, bringing a large number of photographs to illustrate good work-practices or improvements in the five technical areas, including mechanical safety, hazardous substances and others. The photos usually total 100-150, as 20-30 photos are required for each of the technical areas addressed in the seminar. The photos are processed into projector transparencies. The seminars have about 20-30 participants. Ideally, they would be actually working. The seminar starts with visits to factories, where the participants are encouraged to identify good practices and problems using supplied checklists. Then trainers give brief lectures about the five technical areas and invite the participants to discuss the working environments visited and make recommendations for improvement. The training seminar is centered on group discussions. The trainers never refer to complicated theoretical issues or hazard cases, instead they give clear and simplified lectures whenever practical, to facilitate understanding among the participants. In addition, they visualize the issues by actively utilizing a large number of slides and transparent sheet illustrations, and suggest some actual improvements for the local working places to encourage the participants to improve their working environment. Indeed, as suggested by the fact that they are called 'facilitators,' the trainers are expected to facilitate and encourage the participating workers who will undertake improvements in their workplaces.

Once the seminar is finished, the participants are expected to organize similar training sessions around their local areas and workplaces. To assist their efforts, some textbooks may be compiled in the local languages and supplemented with additional examples of good practices and recommendations. Sometimes, new sections addressing problems specific to the individual factories or regions may be added to the textbook. The equipment including cameras and slide projectors supplied by the sponsors from Japan for the seminar are managed by the recipient labor unions to ensure that the affiliated local labor unions can efficiently utilize them for the training sessions. Therefore, the subsequent influence of these seminars depends on the commitment of the umbrella organization during and after the seminar. Possibly, a single seminar can lead to 1,000 improvements in 100 factories one year later. The Pakistani seminar had this effect.

Traditionally, occupational safety and health issues have been addressed by developing statutory regulations and increasing the number of professionals, including industrial physicians and occupational health supervisors. This approach, however, has proved to be ineffective in bringing substantial improvements into small or medium-sized companies. Big business, on the other hand, apparently only make token changes and place less importance on effective and practical efforts to create a healthy working environment. The above mentioned OSH approaches which JILAF and The Institute for Labour science have introduced into other Asian countries are likely to be brought back into Japan to counter the ineffective commitment of many companies.


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