Thailand has a population of approximately 59 million people and a land area of 514,000 square kilometres. The population growth is 1.7% per annum. The labour force in 1995 was 34 million of whom 33 million were employed and 1 million unemployed. About 17 and 14 million people were employed in the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors respectively.
In the past, Thailand has been an agricultural economy, exporting more rice and tapioca combined than other country, but during the 30-year period 1960–90 the Thai economy underwent dramatic structural changes. Manufacturing has assumed the leading role in terms of its contribution to the GDP. These changes have made Thailand one of the fastest growing economies in the region, with a rapidly expanding manufacturing sector supplying textiles, garments, electrical and electronic goods, gems and jewels and dozens of other products for local and world markets.
The Royal Thai Government is greatly concerned for the welfare of Thai workers in both the industrial and the agricultural sectors. This concern has led to seminars stressing the need for effective measures to improve the working conditions and environments of workers in various sectors and work situations. In light of all the issues taken into consideration, the National Institute for the Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment (NICE) was established through collaborative arrangements between the Royal Thai Government and the United Nations. NICE became a division under the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare (DLPW), which has the primary responsibility for the protection of workers in Thailand and seeks to achieve its objectives through strengthening the existing institutional systems procedures and technical capabilities of DLPW.
The objective of NICE is to improve the protection of workers from occupational accidents and diseases and from unsatisfactory working conditions. Its main activities are as follows:
- the development and implementation of training programmes in occupational safety and health and in working conditions
- the development and operation of a management information system (MIS) to centralize all information collected and to provide a basis for planning, evaluation and coordinating policies and programmes for improving working conditions and the environment
- the development of a visible focal point for national exchange of information and expertise on working conditions and the environment
- providing technical support to increase the capability of those inspection staff who handle working conditions and the environment
- providing laboratory facilities in occupational hygiene, work physiology and ergonomics, and testing of safety equipment
- provision of support, through research and technical advisory services, for example, for extending protection to small-scale enterprises.
NICE has a staff of 50 professionals and is divided into the following sections: General Administration, Work Environment, Ergonomics and Work Physiology, Safety Technology, Safety Promotion and Training, Safety and Health Information Centre, Audiovisual and 12 regional centres in industrial estate areas throughout the country.
National Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre of Thailand
In order to improve NICE’s ability to meet its objective more effectively, NICE, in collaboration with the Geneva-based International Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre of the International Labour Office, established the National Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre of Thailand. The Centre is concerned primarily with collecting information on occupational safety, health and working conditions, from Thailand and abroad, processing and storing it and disseminating it to employers, workers, their respective organizations and related bodies and others having need for such information. This Information Centre comprises a reference library, a documentation unit, an inquiry service and a computer unit.
When it opened, this library possessed only a few hundred books; now, the collection comprises approximately 3,000 book titles and 20,000 titles of microfiches on various topics on occupational safety and health such as occupational disease, safety and health engineering and working conditions. Furthermore, since 1983, the library has subscribed to 27 English-language publications and ten Thai journals. Thirty videotape titles on display and posters are available. The library’s outreach to safety and health professionals is continually expanding.
The documentation unit
The duty of this unit is to produce an occupational safety and health newsletter; guidelines, handbook and code of practice; a brochure; and information sheets.
1. The safety and health newsletter. Four newsletters are produced annually, each presenting such various offerings as safety and health updates, research news, interviews, statistics, and so on. There are 6,000 copies of each newsletter produced annually.
2. Information sheets. These are divided into four groups of topics including:
- safety and health in general, e.g., safety construction, fire prevention, and ventilation in the workplace
- practical use for safety, for example, the safe use of hand tools, or the safe use of electrical equipment
- chemical data such as might relate to sodium hydroxide or ammonia
- laws and legislation on safety, such as would concern safe working environments, and much more.
3. Recently, the documentation unit produced 109 titles of information sheets and 10,000 copies of each was printed, making an aggregate of over a million copies.
4. The guideline, handbook and code of practice. As of the mid-1990s 15 titles of this publication had been produced; for example, one of these included a guideline for the safe handling of pesticides and a handbook for first aid in industry. Each publication was printed in 3,000 copies.
5. Brochures. Ten titles of brochures were produced, having to do, for example, with the use of ear plugs at work. Of each title, 5,000 copies were printed, giving an aggregate of 50,000 copies.
The inquiry service
The inquiry service was set up with the purpose of seeking answers to questions on occupational safety and health from every person concerned in this field: labour inspectors, safety officers, employers, employees, students and others. All inquiries can reach the centre by post, telephone or facsimile. Before sending out every answer, all information is checked by NICE technical staff for correctness.
Each year, approximately 600 inquiries are sent to the centre.
The computer unit
As the focal point for collecting and exchanging information, expertise and practical experience in the area of occupational safety and health, NICE has built up several databases: on industrial establishment, accident investigation reports, labour inspection reports, safety officers, major hazards installation, boiler inspection reports, work environment inspection reports and workers’ health screening reports. In order to enhance the ability of this unit, NICE has developed a centralized computer system which will serve as the host database on occupational safety and health. This work has been done with assistance from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the International Labour Organization. Meanwhile, the local area network (LAN) between NICE and the other Regional Centres on Occupational Safety and Health has been established. This linkage will help the staff from a Regional Centre to access information from NICE databases and from various CD-ROM databases in the NICE computer unit.
In order to promote as its direct concern the improved working conditions and the safety and health of Thai workers throughout the country, all the services of NICE are free of charge and NICE now supports all labour inspectors, approximately 5,000 safety officers, about 650 organized trade unions of medium- and large-size enterprises, employers and employees throughout the country. Therefore, NICE still moves on developing and strengthening its ability to protect workers from unsatisfactory performance and injuries due to unsafe working conditions and hazards in the environment.