Vicious cycle

THIS is a very familiar scene: someone gets killed at their workplace; we express sadness, others are incredulous especially if the manner of death is gory if not ridiculous; then we blame the owner and the victims.

Such was the maelstrom of reactions to the curious case of Joemar Jungco, a worker of Akhira Frozen Foods in Barangay Mansaya, La Paz, Iloilo City who was gobbled and killed by the mechanical meat mixer in the said factory.

Many on social media cried foul play. Other heartless and brainless folks thought it was fake information. Still others cried sensationalism.

But lost in the cacophony of reactions is the issue of government regulation of workplaces that pose danger to workers. The perfect definition of businesses that lack occupational health and safety standards (OHSS) are sweatshops, which usually take advantage of impoverished workers like Jungco.

Sweatshops lack or don’t follow proper safety protocols, especially in the use of machineries. Workers are further exposed to hazards for lack of personal protective equipment or PPEs. Public health is also at risk when workers don’t use sanitary or hygienic equipment when processing food products.

In the case of Jungco, it was found out that he lacked a health card, which is required of workers who directly touch or process food products. Of course, it is not his fault because his employer ought to have made sure that he secured the clearance.

Let’s take a look at the statistics on workplace safety in the country.

The UN International Labor Organization Occupational said “accidents and diseases cause human suffering and loss. Their economic cost is high, with some 2 million workers dying each year from work-related accidents and diseases, and the figure is on the increase in spite of efforts to make inroads.”

Citing Philippine Government estimates, the ILO said “2.2 million Filipino workers in medium and large enterprises enjoy effective occupational safety and health (OSH) protection and services.”

“In other words, 17 of 18 persons in the nation’s workforce of 38.8 million do not benefit from acceptable working conditions. Studies substantiate that OSH conditions in micro-firms and the informal sector pose risks and hazards.”

The 2015/2016 Integrated Survey on Labor and Employment (ISLE) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) clarifies the picture.

The survey that covered 12,926 agricultural and non-agricultural establishments employing 20 or more workers nationwide indicated that “cases of occupational accidents decreased by 5.7 percent but resulted to an increase in occupational injuries by 3.8 percent.”

The other salient findings of the survey are:

-The number of occupational accidents reached a total of 44,739 in 2015, a decline of 5.7 percent from the 47,440 occupational accidents reported in 2013.  Despite this reduction, the resulting occupational injuries as an aftermath of these occupational accidents in 2015 grew by 3.8 percent from 49,118 in 2013 to 50,961.

-Across industries, manufacturing accounted for the highest shares of total occupational injuries in 2015 and 2013 at 50.4 percent (25,667) and 48.1 percent (23,641), respectively. (Table 1)

-This was followed by wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles with 11.4 percent and 11.7 percent in 2015 and 2013, respectively.

-The least share of occupational injuries for 2015 and 2013 was registered in repair of computers and personal and household goods and other personal service activities at 0.2 percent (96 cases) and 0.3 percent (136 cases) respectively.

-Compared with 2013, work-related injuries decreased in ten (10) industry groups, with the highest percentage decline posted in both real estate activities (51.8%) and water supply, sewerage, waste management and remediation activities (51.8%). Large decline was likewise reported in administrative and support service activities with 47.7 percent drop in 2015. (

Back to Jungco’s case, the Iloilo City Health Office said it lacks personnel who will check the compliance of workers with sanitation rules. And to think, City Hall has thousands of casual and contractual workers (read: political accommodation).

It is also a puzzle how the food factory could operate sans basic occupational safety measures such as PPEs for the workers and an emergency shut off switch aka “dead man’s switch” (no pun intended) that may have prevented the grisly accident.

Yes, the scenario sounds so routine and boring but central to this incident is deficient and inefficient government control and lack of occupational health culture in businesses.

When shall we learn?