Published: 02/05/2010

Workers in the cane-based sugar sector in Kenya face substantial safety and health hazards. Companies historically have shown a lack of concern about occupational health and safety (OHS)  and this has been worsened by casualization and outsourcing, which put a great proportion of the sugar labour force at risk.

To mark April 28 the gloabl day of commemoration for injured workers and workers who died on the job, the IUF Global Sugar Program is running a series of workshops in Kenya’s six sugar estates from April 25 to May 7, part of a 4-year OHS program with the sugar workers union, KUSPAW, with support from the Canadian Auto Workers, CAW.

The program trains workers on safety and health issues in the workplace and challenges management’s perspective that identifies OHS merely as an operational cost. The program is based on analyzing issues that workers identify in their workplace through group visits to field and factory operations, followed by the drafting of practical recommendations to resolve them. The recommendations are discussed with KUSPAW officials  and with the estate’s management, encouraging dialogue, something that is almost non-existent in the sector. A lasting effect of the program is the empowering of workers and unions representatives at the shopfloor, a crucial factor in improving safety and health in the workplace.

As Rose Keter, a worker at Chemelil Sugar Company, told the IUF:  “When I started at the safety committee, I thought all I had to do was to demand ‘protectives’ (personal protective equipment), but after the training I understand that the main action is to try to eliminate hazards… Now I can talk to management about how to reduce risks, but I still need to learn more.”

On 28 April, a delegation of 16 people visited field and factory operations in Muhoroni Sugar Estate, near Kisumu, to observe the work performed and make recommendations to improve OHS practices.

Remembering injured workers and workers who died on the job is also empowering workers to prevent accidents in the future.

Jorge Chullén from the Muhoroni Sugar Estate, Kenya.

For more information on the IUF Global Sugar Program: