Capacity building programs are an established element in many responsible sourcing programs, particularly in the apparel sector. They typically focus on driving production efficiencies, at factory level, with the expectation being that any gains, made from adopting lean manufacturing techniques, will benefit workers via a reduction in excessive working hours.  While these initiatives are effective under the correct circumstances, they do require long term commitments and there is the challenge of ensuring that improved efficiencies do not simply free up capacity for additional orders.

In Omega’s view, health and safety training is often overlooked as a capacity building tool.  The potential benefits are very tangible.  A missing guard on a machine, for example, can result in the loss of a hand meaning the worker is unable to provide for his family.  Across Asia, factory workers remain poorly educated on machine safety and, through improved education, important impacts can be simply made.  An absence of education isn’t the only factor at play though.  Omega was recently informed by a factory manager, in China, that installing guards on machines would result in workers becoming complacent and more likely to make mistakes.  External assistance is needed.  Focused on day to day challenges, such as rising raw material costs, currency fluctuations and meeting overheads, health and safety is not always on the factory owner’s list of priorities.

Omega recommends health and safety training sessions comprised of 5 modules covering fire safety, machinery safety, chemical safety, personal protective equipment (PPE) usage and occupational diseases.  The composition of these sessions can be adjusted to meet the requirements of the market.  For India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Omega recommends a focus on fire safety. While the challenges of fire safety are widely reported in Bangladesh, there is also significant risk in India and Pakistan where there is an absence of regulations covering the use of heat resistant lighting, for example, which do exist in China.  Bangladeshi factories usually perform their washing in-house and therefore chemical safety needs to be addressed. Similarly, Omega suggests greater focus on hygiene and occupational diseases in China.  In Omega’s experience, poor use of PPE is common across all the markets Omega serves and should be addressed with equal priority.

Omega suggests a 2 Phase approach to health and safety training.  Phase I would be a group session attended by multiple factories representatives.  In Omega’s experience, these sessions are too often only attended by the factory owner, or a salesman. The result being that, while the factory shows face to its client, the information is not always effectively disseminated to the workers.  It is crucial then that these sessions are also attended by factory representatives at a supervisory level. Phase II would be a more specific training session, performed at the factory, with the objective of educating and empowering the workers on the factory floor.

In an ideal world, brands would perform training across their entire factory base. However, due to resource constraints, this isn’t always realistic. Omega recommends prioritizing key suppliers where leverage and potential impact is the greatest.  In terms of measuring the effectiveness of the training programs, this can be gauged from comparing the health and safety findings between onsite assessments, an excellent indicator of progress.

Should you wish to learn more about Omega’s capacity building services, please contact us.

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