Editorial: Paying for risks

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Finally, there is some sensible talk about risk pay in this country. Forever, we have wondered why there is a need for risk pay. At first, we thought that we just did not understand the concept or maybe it was some kind of holdover from days of old, but the more we looked into it, the more it became obvious that it was exactly what it was called, “risk pay.” A payment premium to cover unnecessary risks at the workplace.
With the recent pronouncement by the minister of health, Molwyn Joseph, it may be that we are embarking on a journey that would see the government (and others) eliminating risks and in doing so, eliminating risk pay.
It is interesting that Minister Joseph would use the situation at Clarevue Psychiatric Hospital as an example for his advocacy, as we would have thought that hospitals were one of the few places where risk pay may be an exception. But that is a minor point in the greater scheme of things, and it may be the case that it is on the minister’s radar because of the amount owed – $1.7 million in risk allowance accumulated over a period of about 10 years.
According to the minister, “It does not make good sense for management to pay people to take risks. If there is a risk, what should happen is that organisation should have structures in place to avert the risk. If there is a job with a particularrisk [then] it is recognised in terms of your remuneration and not to separate like a risk allowance.” We absolutely agree.
Not only that, but the minister makes another good point when he says that the risk allowance may actually work against the employees. He noted that there are some employees who are paid risk allowance but often ignore the safety procedures and the donning of protective gear when they are on the job. How many times have you seen a worker with a t-shirt stretched across his or her face when some sort of breathing safety apparatus is needed? Or, how many times have you seen someone in slippers when boots are most definitely needed for the type of work that they do? These are just two instances that we see almost every day. Instances, where the proper protective gear is regularly not worn on the job.
The minister gave another great example to sum up his argument when he mentioned the workers at the quarry. He said, “There have been cases in Public Works [Department] where people in the quarry are paid risk allowance. Instead of demanding they wear the right gear to protect their health, the government should use that money and buy the necessary respirators, [protective clothing], rather than telling [staff] ‘I will pay you to take the risk’.” He added that the employees opt to take the risk, while collecting the allowance, and continue to jeopardise their health and safety.
There are risks in any job, but people are usually paid risk allowance when the obvious risks are not managed. That is a pretty crazy situation to be in and worse, a crazier situation for management to allow to continue.
The usual risks of any job should be acknowledged and accepted by the employee and their remuneration should reflect that tacit agreement when they are hired. There will be exceptions to any rule, but the basic logic is that there should be no risk allowances for risks that can be adequately managed. The management of any business should not be given an easy out via the payment of risk allowances instead of being required to take action to mitigate the risks to a reasonable level.
We mentioned that we saw hospitals as being one of those exceptions to the rule. The reason for this is the difficulty in managing the risks of diseases, etc, and in the case of the mentally challenged, their sometimes unpredictable behaviour. That said, we are not medical professionals so we will leave that assessment to those far more qualified than we are.
Some people say that there is no such thing as an accident, only people who ignore safety. It is an interesting philosophy that is difficult to agree with 100 percent, but if we adhere to the basic concept, we will likely curtail the “accidents” associated with risks. And, if we are correct, that conceptis the underpinning of the minister’s argument. If we deal with the safety aspects, we will address the risks, and we would not have to make provisions for a “risk allowance.” It seems to be sound logic by Minister Joseph

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