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Senators call for review of occupational safety and health standards

Three senators want a review of the country's fire code and occupational safety and health standards to prevent a repeat of the tragic fire that hit a slipper factory in Valenzuela City, killing 72 people.

Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Cynthia Villar , and Juan Edgardo Angara stressed the need to enhance and strengthen the existing laws on safety and health in the workplace following what the International Labor Organization described as a preventable accident.

In Senate Resolution 1365, Marcos sought an inquiry on the circumstances that led to the May 13 fire that razed the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation.

The Department of Labor and Employment earlier said Kentex had passed safety and health inspection in September 2014, or eight months prior to the incident.

"That a factory like Kentex could pass the scrutiny of our labor inspectors calls into question how thorough these compliance checks are,” Marcos said.

He added the Senate inquiry will also look into the level and quality of cooperation between national agencies and local governments not only on fire prevention drives but also in promoting occupational safety and health standards.

He said they will also look into the regularity of occupational safety and health inspections and policies, as well as fire inspections.

"Kung once in a blue moon ito, ang mensahe sa mga workers ay bahala na kayo sa buhay ninyo. Sabi nga ng isang manggagawa ng Kentex, limang taon na siya sa factory, ni isang fire drill ay di niya naranasan," he said.

The senator also observed some blame-tossing between the Bureau of Fire Protection and the city government of Valenzuela.

"The Senate probe will be impartial, thorough, and constructive. The bereaved families deserve some answers. I would also be interested to know what more needs to be done to prevent a repeat of the Kentex fire," Marcos said.

Villar, in Senate Resolution 1364 she filed, said the responsibility for the lives of workers does not lie solely on the employer but also with the State.

“Guided by the memory of the Ozone disco fire incident more than 14 years ago, and in the advent of the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation factory fire, it is incumbent upon the State to revisit and look into the practices being done in the actual implementation of the Fire Code and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards in order to find the fault in the system, if any,” she said.

Angara, for his part, said the purpose of the review would be to see if updating of labor laws is necessary or if enforcement of current laws is adequate.

“We must ensure that government agencies whether at the national or local level have the capacities to enforce such laws,” he added.

Angara, acting chairman of the committee on labor, employment and human resources development, said the Senate has conducted a hearing last February on various bills seeking to amend and strengthen the occupational safety and health policies.

“I support these measures and I think it is high time for the Congress to pass a law that would impose stricter penalties and criminalize non-compliance to safety standards,” he said.

The senator cited a 2006 report by the Occupational Safety and Health Center which shows that 90 percent of the Philippine workforce do not enjoy favorable working conditions and are exposed to chemicals and substandard equipment and tools and unhygienic working environment.

“We can’t afford to lose another life due to negligent employers who choose not to comply with safety standards. The welfare and protection of our workers should be our prime concern so as to prevent worksite accidents like this from happening again,” Angara said.

He said that they will wait for the House of Representatives to finish its hearing on the Kentex fire before deciding if the Senate will conduct its own probe.

“Nauna na ang House of Representatives so maybe wait for them to wrap up and see if there are aspects that need to be discussed further,” Angara said in a text message to GMA News Online when asked on the matter. - JJ, GMA News
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