Despite the efforts underway, some companies are still permitting unsafe practices, as when they allow workers to operate wood-cutting machines with bare hands instead of ensuring they wear protective gloves. It is possible to find grinding machines lacking protective shields, and chainsaw operators and factory staff working without goggles or ear-protectors, helmets or high-visibility reflective jackets. “Logs are falling on people because of poor communication or poor visibility or sheer negligence,” says Glen Asomaning of the NDF.
One challenge is Ghana’s heat and humidity, which can dissuade workers in both forests and factories from wearing gloves, boots, helmets and facemasks. Aryeh, at Ejura Timbers, says he feels very uncomfortable wearing wellington boots as they trap heat. He adds that while the boots offer some protection against injury, they are heavy, so wearing them is tiring, and they lack the grip he needs when he needs to climb on a log to inspect it. “I wish they would give me proper safety boots.”
The Supervising Manager of Ejura Timbers, Isaac Appiah, acknowledges such complaints and says the company aims to change the type of boots it issues to workers by early 2019. “Since NDF came with the support and training, we have been able to put our house in order in terms of filing of documents, workers’ safety and in keeping the environment neat,” he says. “If you think safety is expensive, try accident — we acknowledge preservation is always better than cure.”
Asomaning is confident the situation for workers in Ghana’s timber sector will improve soon because, in parallel with training in the workplace, the government is increasing its checks on companies. Under its new system for ensuring that timber products are legal, the Timber Validation Department will audit companies to check they comply with health and safety requirements.