Haze is a recurrent problem in Malaysia. The smog laden air comes around Malaysia with such regularity that it practically is part of Malaysia’s annual seasonal occurrence. However, the health effects of haze is no joke. Haze can cause eye, nose, and throat irritations, headaches, decreased lung function, and can be fatal to those with respiratory issues. In the long term, it increases the risk of death by cardiovascular diseases.
The haze this year in particular is incredibly bad. Every single one of the 13 states of Malaysia are affected. With the exception of the state of Perlis the air quality has dropped to such low levels that schools are being shut down and visibility is almost halved. Even then, it is just a matter of time before Perlis comes under assault by the smog.
The situation has deteriorated to the extent that the Ministry of Human Resources (MoHR) has urged employers to their staff work from home to ensure their health is not adversely affected by the prolonged haze season. The issue was brought up during the weekly Cabinet meeting on 18 September, with the MoHR stating that the primary responsibility of employers is to ensure an employee’s safety and health at work.
“It is incumbent upon employers to carry out a proper risk assessment and to implement appropriate measures, including specifying when to restrict work, so as to ensure that risks identified are minimised or mitigated. Apart from adhering to the Hazard Identification Risk Assessment and Risk Control Guidelines, employers are also encouraged to execute flexible work policies that may include permitting employees to carry out their tasks from their respective homes should the situation become hazardous to their health and wellbeing,” it said in a statement.
MoHR added that Malaysian employee laws did not prohibit employers from further determining place of employment other than which is specified in the contract of employment.
“In certain circumstances, a need may arise that the job task is required to be carried out from a different location other than specified in the contract of employment,” it said.
Such instances does include environmental factors such as haze or flooding. In such cases, should employees become unable to reach the workplace or whose health are at risk should they leaven their homes, said employees could be required to carry out the job task from their homes as a temporary measure until the situation is deemed safe.
The umbrella body of unions has put out a warning regarding the health effects of inhaling smog or polluted air is not immediately apparent and may only show up at a later date.
MoHR said the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) can order affected work to stop in situations where haze poses immediate danger to the safety and health of workers and measures have not been taken to mitigate those risks under the Occupational Safety & Health Act 1994.
Those failing to comply with the Act is liable to a fine not exceeding RM50,000 (US$12,000) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both and to a further fine of RM500 (US$120) daily during which the offence continues.