Earthquake safety measures should be upheld in workplaces

April 28 is International Workers’ Memorial Day

A workplace safety NGO called on employers to uphold safety measures during earthquakes and denounced companies which reportedly refused to allow workers to carry out safety measures during the April 22 earthquake. The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) claimed that the “business as usual” approach taken by many companies during and after the earthquake is a violation of workers’ right to safe workplaces and placed workers’ lives in extreme danger. 

“Workers are not earthquake-proof. Worse, they are the most vulnerable during earthquakes. Workers’ safety and their immediate evacuation during emergency situations such as earthquakes should be the management’s top priority. Workers should be kept safe at all times,” said Nadia De Leon, IOHSAD executive director. 

IOHSAD has received a number of reports from workers especially in the service and manufacturing sectors that they were prevented from safely evacuating their respective workplaces during the earthquake. 

A BPO worker from Pampanga, where the earthquake was intensely felt, recalled how he and his co-workers were told by their supervisors to continue taking calls even aftershocks have occurred. Another BPO company in the south of Metro Manila also ignored the earthquake and even demanded that their employees stay in their stations and not log out from their accounts. 

Inhumane and irrational company evacuation policies during emergencies were also experienced by manufacturing workers. Workers of Nexperia, a multinational electronics company in one of the export processing zones in Laguna, complained that they were not allowed to leave the production area during the earthquake. During the dialogue between Nexperia management and the workers, HR officials reiterated the company’s policy that workers can leave their work areas only when earthquakes have reached Magnitude 6. 

“Earthquakes with less than Magnitude 6 can kill employees working in unstable buildings. Only extreme greed can prevent employers from allowing workers to leave their workplaces even for a short period during earthquakes,” said De Leon. 

The NGO condemned SM Supermalls, which drew criticisms for allegedly refusing to let its salesladies and workers evacuate during the earthquake. It said the “periodic disaster preparedness programs’ being claimed by the company in its recent statement will amount to nothing if it does not allow workers to carry these out during earthquakes. 

IOHSAD challenged SM to immediately fix the mall chains’ emergency evacuation procedures. “What we want to see are salesladies and other workers evacuated immediately during earthquakes. SM should find a way to secure workers even as it tries to secure its wares,” De Leon said. 

“The recent earthquake exposed how companies’ adherence to earthquake drills and preparations for the Big One are just for show. We condemn the inhumane policies of SM, BPO and manufacturing companies that prevented workers from leaving their workplaces during the earthquake. Companies who do this should be penalized and their “business as usual” policies during emergency situations should be repealed,” added De Leon. 

“As we remember all workers who have died due to work this Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28, we call on the government, through the Labor Department, to immediately address workers’ complaints on the failure of their companies to evacuate them in emergency situations,” De Leon said. 

In light of the predictions of “the Big One” earthquake happening, IOHSAD called on the government to carry out the following:

  1. An honest-to-goodness inspection of the structural soundness of all workplaces in  the country, especially the biggest ones. Workers would be most happy to take part in efforts in line with this. 
  • An immediate investigation into reports that workers were not allowed to evacuate workplaces during the last earthquake. Companies that committed safety violations and placed the workers’ lives in danger should be held accountable. Implement the newly enacted Occupational Safety and Health Law and give appropriate penalties to companies who have set aside workers’ safety. 
  • An order by the Labor Department directing all companies to submit their emergency evacuation plans. Existing company evacuation policies during emergencies should be reviewed and immediately revised to reflect the company’s duty to keep workers safe at all times. 
  • Fresh wave of earthquake drills and disaster preparedness trainings for workers. 

“Footages of the recent earthquake show that it only took a few seconds for unstable structures to collapse. This should send a clear message to employers and the government to resolutely act now to ensure safer workplaces in the country,” ended De Leon. ##

photo credit : Facebook page of ALL Nexperia FIGHT

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