Image1: Movie poster – Blood Diamond Oct 03 2015
The movie “Blood Diamond”, challenges the modern standards of health and safety as set out by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA). It begins with the true story of a fisherman, Solomon Vandy who is enslaved and forced to work in the violent underground Diamond industry in Sierra Leone where the Diamonds were used to finance the warlords’ violent crimes and purchase guns and ammunition. Separated from his family Solomon is forced to use his wits to survive and reunite his broken and scattered family. The movie revolved around extremely dangerous and dehumanizing conditions, all for the possession of diamonds. It was a time when the country was torn apart by insurgent forces who wanted to discourage voting by the citizens loyal to the government . In this movie, Solomon and other enslaved workers are exposed to many occupational safety and health issues as they worked in an unregulated diamond industry. Headlining hazardous issues are of the biological, physical, ergonomic and psychological nature. According to Part two of the act, “General Duties” of employers to their employees, workers have the right to a safe workplace and the diamond industry in Sierra Leone is anything but safe.
The daily exposure to blood and air-borne pathogens transmitted via blood spatter and bodily fluids seeping into the earth from the workers who have been shot or butchered for sport or for refusing to comply with the “warlord’s” requests, represents a direct violation of part four of the act “Health”, which speaks to the employer about taking measures to ensure and maintain optimal health and safety of employees and visitors to their facility. In addition, fecal matter mixes with the drinking water, as workers are forced to relieve themselves “in the bushes” due to the lack of sanitary facilities. The squalid conditions in these damp, wet mining rebel camps are the conditions that workers throughout the entire movie face from start to end. We see evidence of these conditions in the cities, overloaded with refuse and people, dirty streets and filthy crowded prisons. As many are forced to work in the rivers of Sierra Leone looking for diamonds we see a situation “ripe” for an outbreak of communicable and infectious diseases.
In the forests, insect bites are common; we see the anti-hero, diamond smuggler Denny Archer with bites on his forearms in one scene. Malaria vaccinations, in fact any form of inoculations would be the best form of protection against diseases spread by insects in this situation, yet we see no one thinking or caring about the welfare of workers in this industry.
Physical hazards, ergonomic hazards
There is the concern too that the condition of the workers bodies with having to participate in repetitive bending for long periods to retrieve the diamonds from the contaminated water or from digging presented ergonomic hazards. Ergonomic hazards tend to cause injury, strain and physical stress to the body: OSHA stipulates that at least a one hour rest period should be granted.
Images 2 and 3: Ergonomic hazards Oct 03 2015
Also depicted in the movie were the long hours of work in blistering sunlight that the workers were forced to endure. These conditions can result in loss of consciousness, sunburns and dehydration causing physical harm to their bodies. These workers have had all their basic rights stripped away from them and have been afforded no protection. According to OSHA, Section 23 subsections (1) and (2) states employers must provide their employees with the basic Proper Protective Equipment (P.P.E) in order for them to perform their jobs properly.
Image 4: Psychological hazards Oct 03 2015
As defined by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, workplace violence is depicted as acts or verbal comments that could ‘mentally’ hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. It has also been described as the assertion of power through aggression. We see that in the movie, the ruthless rebel warlord charged with overseeing one section of the workforce created a psychological hazard for the workers. He was seen with a gun and a cutlass at all times, shouting at the workers and threatening to kill them if they did not continue working, made any attempt to escape, or if they stole any of the diamonds. View the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eThlmx7w9r0
Workplace violence or workplace stress as experienced by the workers, are real occurrences that take place within institutions affecting employees, clients, customers and visitors. They are mainly associated with workplace issues such as excessive workload, lack of control and/or respect. Many workers run the risk of developing work related stress, created within a stressful environment. Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them, so these ‘hazards’ or ‘stressors’ over a period tend to cause stress, either (short-term effects) and strain (long-term effects).
Image 5: A young worker Oct 03 2015
Another major issue seen in the movie was child slavery and this is highlighted as a breech within the OSH Act. These young workers are subjected to long hours just as the adults, undergoing physically challenging tasks such as digging with heavy shovels or carrying bags of gravel which can leave them hurt or in pain. In South African mining operations, children perform the most dangerous activities such as entering narrow mine-shafts or descending into pits where landslides may claim their lives. As part of the OSH regulations, the Act clearly outlines Section 9 subsection 53 and 54 (1) Conditions for young persons and lists that any employer who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence. Unfortunately, many places still do not abide by these regulations so adult and child slavery goes unabated.
Recommendations in the movie
Comparing this movie to the Trinidad and Tobago OSH Act, had this situation been set in a regulated industry, recommendations could have been made for the employer to put up warning signs clearly that all employees are expected to wear the proper P.P.E. necessary for the job i.e boots to protect their feet from being cut by stones and other debris, gloves to protect their hands and respiratory equipment be provided. The employer would have also been advised to conduct an annual risk assessment and to make improvements where they are found lacking, which would be used to create a written manual or exposure control plan.
Of all the information provided, there should be a listing of the hazards that an employee would expect to be exposed to and how to protect themselves from each type of hazard. The employer would also be advised against the dangers of mutilating their potential and existing employees – without a first aid kit or even a medic on site. Listing job descriptions for each category of worker would also be undertaken being mindful of the health needs of their young workers in order to be in compliance with the act.
As regards sanitary conveniences; an outhouse should have been built away from the water’s edge to prevent re-contamination of the water. Water containers for washing of hands and drinking and signs are visible to remind the employees to wash their hands after using the outhouses. The ‘warlord’ would have also gone through training, in order to communicate to workers better.
Diamonds may be forever, but they are not to be substituted for the lives of others.
For more information, click on these links……..
Blood Diamond Documentary Website https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bzMrxVwl74 .Published Jun 19, 2012. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
Blood Diamond photo gallery. website http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0450259/mediaindex?page=1&ref_=ttmi_mi_sm Retrieved September 30, 2015.
Blood Diamond. Wikipedia the free encyclopedia. Website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Diamond_(film) Retrieved October 1, 2015.
Jorgustin, Ken, “how long to boil drinking water”. modern survival blog.com
Website: http://modernsurvivalblog.com/health/how-long-to-boil-drinking-water/ June 5, 2014. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
Major problems facing Sierra Leone today. AfricaW and Africa and the world .Website: http://www.africaw.com/major-problems-facing-sierra-leone-today Retrieved September 30, 2015
Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act of 2004, Amended by 3 of 2006. http://www.rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/88.08.pdf Retrieved October 2, 2015
“Psychosocial hazards”. Australian Government Comcare. Website; http://www.comcare.gov.au/preventing/hazards/psychosocial_hazards. Page last updated: 02 Apr 2014. Retrieved October 2, 2015.