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Realizing occupational safety and health in the SME sector



Dr. Champika Amarasinghe 

World Day for Safety and Health at Work falls on April 28

by Randima Attygalle

With COVID-19 health and safety protocols gaining priority, other work place related health and safety measures seem to be taking a backseat in certain industries. Waging a battle to raise credit to run their businesses and keep employees’ home fires burning in the pandemic-hit world, occupational safety and health (OSH) is largely undermined in small and medium (SME) enterprises.

In a bid to address OSH concerns of the SME sector, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), affiliated to the Ministry of Labour in collaboration with the Small Enterprises Development Division (SED) of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, launched a project to create awareness among industry owners. The three-month project which was launched last November and successfully completed in February this year, was funded by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The project identified 200 industries from Gampaha and Kalutara Districts. The Divisions of Bulathsinhala, Kelaniya, Katana, Weweldeniya, Bataleeya, Beruwala, Panadura, Negombo and Katana were selected for it. Among the chosen industries were garments, brassware, statue-making, batik, cane, jaggery-making, spices, envelope-making and small scale motels – all of which employed less than 20 people.

“The contribution of the informal sector including SMEs to GDP is as important as the contribution made by sectors such as garments, tea and foreign employment,” says Director General, NIOSH, Dr. Champika Amarasinghe. However, the informal sector which includes SMEs doesn’t come within the health and safety legislature of the country, she notes.

“This is a serious concern as occupational hazards, disability levels and other accidents in this sector do not get reported. Absence of compensation becomes a double whammy. Unlike in the case of large industries, OSH in the SMEs is hardly spoken of and that is the very reason for ILO to steer this project,” she added.

The National Policy Framework for SME Development introduced by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce recognizes SMEs as the ‘backbone of the economy’ accounting for more than 75% of the total number of enterprises, providing 45% of the employment and contributing 52% towards GDP. The SME Policy Framework aims to ‘promote high potential, promising SMEs and improve business environment to allow them to realize their full potential in today’s globalized economy.’ The OSH project is also aligned with this.

The ILO report on the theme of ‘Anticipate, prepare and respond to crises- Invest now in resilient OSH systems ‘ issued marking the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, 2021 (falling on April 28) notes: ‘A sound national OSH policy and regulatory framework is essential for the protection and promotion of physical and mental health at work. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the safety and health of workers worldwide.

`The risk of workplace transmission and other associated risks, brought about by the prevention and protection measures taken, have exacerbated existing and emerging OSH risks — including psychosocial risks, poor ergonomics, exposure to chemicals and workplace accidents. This situation calls for strong national OSH policies and regulatory frameworks to ensure that working environments are safe and healthy, and that there is a clear and well-known established set of rights and duties.’

One of the major outcomes of the project is the realization of the value of `investing in OSH’ for long term benefits, points out the NIOSH Director. “The responses to the questionnaires we sent out and the risk assessments carried out by our team reflected a high degree of risk-taking behaviour among these industries. The exposure to skin irritants/chemicals, unguarded furnaces and switches, absence of personal protective equipment, poor electrical and mechanical safety and unsafe machinery was notable.”

Despite the limitations triggered by the pandemic including quarantining of some of the participants and certain areas being isolated, the implementation of the program was a success, remarks Dr. Amarasinghe. “We conducted a series of on-site as well as on-line workshops which were well received. Industry owners and their employees were educated on OSH supporting structures and management policies.”

Development of the National Safety and Health Management System by NIOSH which will extend to SMEs is an ambitious outcome of the program that will enable cost effective OSH interventions including certification systems. “There are very simple yet effective OSH interventions which do not require a lot of money and one of the objectives of the project was to convey this message,” says Dr. Amarasinghe.

“The National Safety and Health Management System makes provisions for SME owners to improve their workstations adhering to optimum safety standards and also to get safe-certifications at an affordable price. Getting international certifications is a costly process which the majority of the SMEs cannot afford and we are supplementing this with a local system.”

The training has also made sharing of knowledge among communities possible. “Very often within the industries we chose, there are sub-contractors to whom the good practices can be extended. In addition, these industries can appoint an employee to be responsible for OSH within their respective industries,” says NIOSH Director. It has also opened a career path to those who aspire to follow courses in OSH offered by NIOSH, some of which are equivalent to NVQ Level 4.

“Following the training, these sectors have now established a link with us and we are happy to be providing the required know-how and assist those who want to go beyond the training and equip themselves professionally with OSH qualifications,” observed Dr. Amarasinghe who added that it is one of the approaches to make this effort sustainable. Replicating the experience in other parts of the island is also envisaged by the project.

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OPPO releases new OPPO A54 in Sri Lanka



OPPO, the leading global smart device brand, announces the launch of OPPO A54 in Sri Lanka.

A54’s attention to design and great usability is evident in both its exquisite appearance and how it helps to capture great looking shots. This starts with the Material of the Rear Cover, which uses metallic material for its 3D panel, but contributes to a stronger and less bendable structure but also a comfortable in-hand feel. As a result, A54 weighs about 192g and is 8.4mm thin. To align the overall look and feel of the phone, close attention is paid to the Middle Frame Process.

“A Series is designed to enhance or complement our users’ lifestyles and OPPO A54 achieves just this with a phone that manages to balance a high-end performance with contemporary design. Its large 5000mAh battery and 18W Fast Charge makes sure you’re fully powered to get you through your day. With A54, you’ll also have enough storage and memory to make sure that you’ll enjoy your entertainment without the frustrations of an underperforming smartphone,” said Bob Li, CEO, XINDA Lanka (OPPO Sri Lanka).

The Rear Cameras itself feature a 13MP Main Camera, 2MP Macro Camera for close range shots, and 2MP Bokehfor brilliant bokeh shots that blur the background and highlight the subject of the photo. A54 enhances shots in all environments with Dazzle Color, balancing the saturation and brightness. A54 also supports filming videos including SLO-MO at 720P at 90FPS with the rear camera, and up to 10 video Filters including Original, Gentle, Noon, Subtle and more.

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Pan Asia Bank records best-ever Q1 results in challenging times – Profit After Tax soars by 81% to post Rs. 750 mn.



Pan Asia Banking Corporation PLC reported the best-ever first quarter financial results during the quarter ended 31st March 2021 to report a Pre-Tax Profit of Rs. 986 Mn and a Post-Tax Profit of Rs. 750 Mn after recording impressive growth rates of 51% and 81% respectively, demonstrating the resilience amidst challenging macro economic conditions. The Bank’s performance was characterised by strength and resilience, despite the heightened uncertainty due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 impact on the Sri Lankan economy, the Bank’s Operating Profits before VAT on Financial Services reached Rs. 1,197 Mn with an increase of 47%, reflecting excellence in core banking performance and the success of cost containment measures evidenced by improvement in all key matrices which now rank among the industry bests. This feat was achieved even after setting aside provisions for probable loan losses amounting to Rs. 638 Mn. The Bank increased the provision buffers for probable deterioration in credit quality through management overlays, experience adjustments and adjustments for the exposures in the elevated risk industries during the quarter. As a result, total impairment charges for the quarter increased by 21% on YoY basis.

The Bank’s Net Interest Income for the period witnessed an increase of 17% due to significant reduction in financial cost of funds at a rate faster than the drop in interest yields of interest bearing assets. Consequently, the Bank’s Net Interest Margin for the quarter improved to 5.07% from 4.41% reported three months ago. In the meantime, the Bank’s Net Fee and Commission Income recorded a growth of 28% with the rebound in demand for credit due to revival of economic activity amidst the low interest rate regime. The volatility in foreign exchange rates enabled the Bank to increase its Foreign Exchange Income substantially as reflected in Other Operating Income.

The Bank is committed to revenue maximisation and cost management despite sector vulnerabilities that prevailed since last year. The Bank’s Cost-to-Income Ratio improved from 45.66% to 38.08% within a three months period owing to the excellence in core banking performance which is reflected in the noteworthy overall growth in key revenue lines and various strategies and measures taken to contain overhead costs. In fact, the Bank managed to bring down its Other Operating Expenses by 9% in 2021 Q1 compared to 2020 Q1. Meanwhile, increased allocations for performance bonuses, development of human capital and staff welfare led to an increase in personnel costs during the reporting period compared to 2020 Q1.

The Bank’s Post-Tax Profits for the reporting quarter also gained to an extent due to application of lower corporate income tax rate of 24% for tax provisioning in accordance with the guideline issued by CA Sri Lanka on 23rd April 2021.

The Bank continues to report solid Key Profitability Indicators which rank among the highest in the industry. The Bank’s Pre-Tax Return on Assets also improved to 2.24% from 1.70%. Further, the Bank reported a stunning Return on Equity (ROE) of 19.27% during the quarter under review which stands among the industry best. The ROE is the most important performance indicator to gauge the attractiveness of the Banking sector and Pan Asia Bank during its last few years has consistently remained an outlier in the industry.

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SLIIT nurtures school children at ‘Soft Skills + 2021’



The SLIIT Business School (SBS) organised ‘Soft Skills+ 2021’ concluded on an extremely successful note recently helping students engage, cooperate and thrive in building their talents towards personal development and career progression.

SLIIT Soft Skills+ event is an annual flagship CSR Project of the SLIIT Business School organized with the primary objective of developing secondary school students’ soft skills in positive thinking, creativity, analytical thinking, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, communication skills, and teamwork.

Over the years, the programme has garnered much popularity among schools and participants. Due to its tremendous success achieved in previous programmes, Soft Skills+ 2021 followed an upgraded structure. For the first time in the Soft Skills+ programme history, the event was held via online platforms, including a Soft Skills-based online quiz and an online workshop for students and teachers.

During the Grand Finale, Prof. Samantha Thelijjagoda, Dean of SLIIT Business School welcomed the participants and distinguished guests. Prof. Lalith Gamage, Vice Chancellor, SLIIT also addressed the gathering.

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