Occupational health and safety in the informal sector in Zimbabwe

Occupational health and safety in the informal sector in Zimbabwe

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Sheppymore Neruwana, 48, can only use his right hand to carve through a headboard that could give him US$100, only enough for his rentals if his client owns up.He had been able to work on the same job using half the time until fate downed him last year at his Glen View workshop.
He had dosed-off on one of the sofas on displayal in his showroom when fire gutted the Glen View “Area 8” furniture complex, blocking his way to safety.

Sheppymore sustained third-degree burns on his left hand and is lucky to be alive.
He narrates to News of The South how he loathed not having occupational health and safety in place because of the problems that unfolded when he was bed-ridden.


“It was the most difficult time of my life. I got to a point when I could no longer afford going to the local clinic for my wounds to be dressed. I had blown all my savings on treatment”, narrates a visibly shaken and wounded Sheppymore.

“The informal sector in Zimbabwe is not yet fully professionalised and recognised, it is a situation which comes with so many challenges in face of injury as in my case.

“The monthly earnings I get are not systematic that one can think of insuring against the unforeseeable risk of accident or injury. You only get the money that should sustain family needs and my carpentry work daily resources which are expensive in Zimbabwe”, he explains.
Such are the dynamics and reflection of occupational health and safety in Zimbabwe’s informal sector.

Occupational health and safety continue to come under serious scrutiny as a result of the ever sprouting informal sector in Zimbabwe, with growing evidence indicating that in Southern Africa – much work needs to be done.

Project 9 of the Work and Health in Southern Africa Programme conducted by WAHSA in Tanzania and Mozambique recently indicates that the work-life of the informal sector is poorly described and knowledge about the workplace hazards and the health status of workers within this sector is limited.

“The growth in the informal and the small and medium enterprise sectors is an international phenomenon that has been spawned by globalisation.

“These sectors are becoming a sizable portion of the economy in the developed world, and range from 50% to 80% of the economy in developing countries.

“The changing nature of the organisation of work, regionally and internationally, with the rapid increase in the size of multinational and transnational corporations, coupled with increased outsourcing of tasks at a factory or enterprise level, has created workplaces in which the most hazardous work is accomplished by workers who have little workplace protection, and are employed by under-resourced people with no formal links to the well-resourced multinationals”, highlights the report.

Zimbabwe’s informal sector is characterised by skilled individuals working for themselves, or an individual employing a handful of workers with a particular skill such as welding, woodworking, or individuals without any specific skill working alone or in groups, self-employed or employed by a third party. These might include street vendors or workers within a labour broker arrangement.

The working environment can be a fixed location as in the case of Glenview “Area 8’” where Sheppymore is based.

The informal sector is composed of either those directly involved in the work themselves, or by third parties, co-ordinating the groups of activities of wooden furniture from sourced timber; including the retail industry.
It is an industry that is attracting the scrutiny in the place of occupational health and safety by the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), an entity established through an Act of Parliament of Zimbabwe in 1989- (NSSA Act Chapter 17:09).

NSSA Marketing and Communications executive, Tendai Mutseyekwa, explains that the authority is engaging the informal sector to broaden and deepen the appreciation of occupational health and safety.
“Over the years, the authority has initiated and engaged the informal sector through various safety and health campaigns therefore they appreciate the significance of occupational safety and health issues but are either hampered by budgetary constraints or lack of time as most of them are the sole or key players at their enterprises.

“Through our engagements with them, we noted that there is a need to upscale our efforts and ensure that there is more awareness through introducing on-site training.
“We believe that once the informal sector becomes fully conscious and adheres to proper safety and health practices, we will achieve our goal of zero accidents in the workplace,” explains Mutseyekwa.

The informal sector has become an integral part of Zimbabwe’s mainstream economy, and to a large extent, this has been encouraged by the government itself, either directly or indirectly, as a result of specific interventions in national economic development strategies.

In other words, there is a need for strategic business approach as Mutseyekwa highlights.
“Informal sector players are affiliated with organised groups that we can approach and work together with the leadership to reach the members.

“Traditionally we have always used teach-ins wherein we book appointments with them in their various locations and conduct one-day training programs to assist them in mitigating occupational injuries.

“Mass media campaigns have also proven to be very impactful in reaching out to many small enterprises”, he explains.

Project 9 of the Work and Health in Southern Africa Programme conducted by WAHSA shows that the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) has been trying to organise the informal sector into groups so that they could secure soft loans from financial institutions such as the Microfinance Bank.
This comes after the working environment within the informal sectors continue to show a non-existent control of hazards, with workers being exposed to high levels of dust, noise, ergonomic hazards and heat.

Harare based lawyer and labour expert Jevas Chaka encouraged the informal sector to formalise their enterprises so that they are covered in the event of accident or injury.
“They need to register with relevant authorities because it’s illegal to operate without requisite papers.
“Once you get injured while operating on an illegal business premise, it means you are also contributing to the rapid increase of unexpected health hazards further piling pressure on responsible authorities on NSSA for instance.

“NSSA should be able to assist the informal sector if they are registered, provide adequate training on work-related injuries”, he explains.

A wide array of processes is essential to improve the lives of the people in the informal sector, and to ensure their protection from the hazards that they face at work.

It, therefore, becomes the responsibility of the government to develop strategies that while encouraging the growth of the informal sector, must also ensure safe and healthy work environments. Protecting the health of people in the informal sector is only possible within a process which addresses their poverty, and provides opportunities to improve their lives and those of their families.

Noah Kupeta, Msc in Media & Society is an award-winning journalist, writing for the international community. Linkedin Profile Noah Kupeta, Twitter Noah Kupeta. Email: kupetanoah@gmail.com Mobile: 0773 437 995

Noah Kupeta
This article was written by Noah a Guest at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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