OSH History of Malaysia

The role of occupational safety and health has been in existence since 120 years ago, in the late 19th century. It started with steam boiler safety and then followed by machinery safety. After that, it was continued with industrial safety, industrial safety and hygiene and lastly occupational safety and health that covers every work sector. The history, role and development of this Department can be explained in five eras.

1. Steam Boiler Safety Era - before 1914

Job relating to occupational safety was first establish in Malaysia in the year 1878, when Mr. William Givan was appointed as Machinery Inspector. His job was to inspect the safety aspect of steam boilers, which was usually used in tin mines. Circa 1890?s, the Perak state government created a system of inspection by individual surveyors. Individual with steam boiler related qualification are given license to survey boilers. In 1892, there were 83 steam boilers in the state of Perak. All of it was used in tin mines except for 6 units, which were used in sugar factory. This boiler surveyor system was terminated in 1900 with the appointment of Mr. C. Finchman as an inspector of boiler.

Steam boiler enactments at that time were state oriented as each of the four allied Malay states or Negeri-Negeri Melayu Bersekutu (Perak, Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan) uses it?s own steam boiler law. The first steam boiler law of Malaysia was believed to be legislated in Selangor, which is the Selangor Boiler Enactment 1892. Meanwhile in Perak, their first steam boiler law was enforced in the year 1903. Only by 1908, did the Allied Malay States have a uniform steam boiler legislation that was enforced by inspectors of boiler.

2. Machinery Safety Era - 1914 till 1952

On the 1st of January 1914, the steam boiler enactments of the Allied Malay States were abolished and were replaced with Machinery Enactment of 1913. Effective with this legislation, inspectors were not only to inspect steam boilers but also had to inspect machineries, including self-combustion engines, water turbines and other related auxiliary machineries. At the same time, the job title of Inspector of Boiler was also abolished and was replaced with Inspector of Machinery and Assistant Inspector of Machinery.

In the year 1932, the Machinery Enactment of 1913 was abolished and replaced with Machinery Enactment of 1932. Registration and inspection of installation were enforced.

At that time, the inspectors of machinery was under the administration of the Mineral Department, under the machinery branch. This was because most machineries were being used in the mining sector and furthermore, mining was also the main industry.

3. Industrial Safety Era - 1953 till 1967

The Machinery Branch was under the Mineral Department until 1952, when the branch was split of from the department and renamed Machinery Department. The split was a must because most inspections had progressed to other industries besides mining.

In 1953, all of the machinery enactments of the Allied Malay States (Negeri-Negeri Melayu Bersekutu), Non-Allied Malays States (Negeri-Negeri Melayu Tidak Bersekutu) and Strait States (Negeri-Negeri Selat) were abolished and replaced with the Machinery Ordinance 1953. With the enforcement of this ordinance, the roles of inspectors were not only limited to steam boiler or machinery safety but also covered all aspect of factory workers safety where those machineries were being used. Ordinance 1953 lack a lot in worker?s health aspects even though there were regulations on safety, health and welfare of workers under the ordinance, as it was not fully enforced. The main provisions of the ordinance were as follows:

  •  Hence there must be established a Board of Inspectors with powers to conduct inspections and to approve certificates of fitness; 
  •  Hence regulations can be made;
  •  Hence only machinery with approval certificates can be use;
  •  Hence only approved persons can operate machineries; 
  •  Hence approval from Inspections must be given before a machine can be licensed or be modified; 
  •  Hence all accidents to person or property relating to machinery must be notified and investigated;
  •  Hence no person should be acting in a manner that could cause injury to others or to use safety tools;
  •  Hence no person should be acting in a manner that could cause injury to others or to use safety tools;
  •  Hence all non-complying machinery should not be sold, borrowed or rented
  •  Hence Inspectors are given powers to enter premises and to stop unsafe machineries 

Until 1964, there were 786 steam boilers, 4537 unfired pressure vessel, 981 hoisting machines and 11366 other installations. The staffs of Machinery Department consisted of 10 Inspectors which were made up of mechanical engineers, 5 Assistant Inspectors which were holders of engineering diploma and lastly 5 Factory Inspectors (Technicians).

4. Industrial Safety and Hygiene – 1970 till 1994

In the year 1967, the Factory and Machinery Act was approved by the Parliament. Beside that, reorganization of the department was undertaken near the end of 1960’s, in which the function and responsibilities of inspectors, administrative method and filing system are reorganized beside the closing down of small branch offices in Rawang, Taiping, Tapah and Muar. In 1970, the Factory and Machinery Act and eight regulations under the act were enforced. With the commissioning of this act, Machinery Ordinance 1953 was abolished and the name of the department was changed to Factory and Machinery Department. The inspectors who enforce the act are renamed as Factory and Machinery Inspector. This act was legislated to overcome the weaknesses in the Machinery Ordinance 1953, in the scope of worker’s coverage, as they were not protected if they are working in a workplace that doesn’t use machinery. Provisions relating to industrial health are further added.

Generally, the Act was drafted to provide minimum standard of safety, health and welfare of workers at workplace consisting of 5 employees or more and at premises which machinery were being used, including factories, building construction sites and works of engineering construction. The Act was only enforced in Peninsula Malaysia until 1980 when it was further enforced in Sabah and Sarawak. Until the year 1968, Chief Inspectors were made up of British citizens. By 1968, the posts of inspectors in the Machinery Department were fully filled by locals. The year 1968 was also the year when the post of Medical Officer and Surveillance Unit was created in the department. The unit did not stay that long under the Labour Ministry as it was placed under the administration of the Health Ministry in the year 1971.

This era also witnessed the existence of a few important activities and sections like the formation of the Anti-Pollution Section in the year 1971; formation of Industrial Hygiene Unit in the year 1971 and upgrade of its status to Industrial Hygiene Section in the year 1980.; start of petroleum safety activities with the formation of Petroleum Safety Section in the year 1985; start of special inspection activities to prevent major industrial accident; industrial safety and health activity exercises with expert help from International Labour Organisation in the year 1987; formation of C.I.S in 1988; and formation of Major Hazards Section in the year 1991. Petroleum Act (Safety Measures) was enforced in the year 1984 and its enforcement is carried out by a few government agencies including the Factory and Machinery Department. The department enforced provisions in the act relating to transportation of petroleum using pipeline, petroleum distribution, storage and also related equipment and instrument. Regulations (Safety Measures) (Transportation of Petroleum By Pipelines) 1985 have been fully enforced by the department. With these new responsibilities, the Factory and Machinery inspectors were also gazetted as Petroleum Inspector.

Suggestion to establish a National Institute Of Occupational Safety and Health had been carried forward by the department to the National Advisor Council Of Occupational Safety and Health in the year 1985. The Cabinet approve the establishment of the institute in 1991 and its opening was officiated by the Minister Of Human Resource on December 1992. The institute is a government-backed company with the purpose to do training activities; information pooling and dissemination; research and development in occupational safety and health.

A national workshop on occupational safety and health information strategy development was organised by the Factory and Machinery Department, Asia-OSH and International Labour Organisation (ILO) on 26-28 April 1993. The purpose of this workshop was to create an information link relating to occupational safety and health practices in order to enhance information transfer and dissemination. After the reorganisation of the Department in 1969, a lot of changes have taken place due to the country’s speedy economic development and the enforcement of laws related to the department.

5. Occupational Safety and Health Era – after 1994

The new legislation on occupational safety and health was made in the year 1994. Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 (Act 514) was approved by the Parliament in 1993 and was gazetted on February 1994. This legislation was made considering the fact that the Factory and Machinery Act 1967 only covers occupational safety and health in the manufacturing, mining, quarrying and construction industries, whereas the other industries are not covered. Workers that are covered by Factory and Machinery Act 1967 consists only of 24% of the nation’s total man power, while Occupational Safety and Health 1994 would cover 90% of the nation’s total man power and would exempt those working on ships and in the armed forces.

The purpose of Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 is to promote and encourage occupational safety and health awareness among workers and to create organisation along with effective safety and health measures. This would be carried out by self-regulation schemes that match the industry or related organisation. This Act, which contains 15 section, is a measure that supersedes any conflict in existing occupational safety and health laws such as the Factory and Machinery Act 1967. The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 complements any existing legislative provision and if there are any conflicts, the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 will overcome it.

This Act also defines the responsibilities of employers, manufacturer, employees, self-employed workers, designers, importers and vendors. Even though those responsibilities are general, it would still need serious attention and would carry all kind of liabilities. There are three main principles that had been taken as the foundation in the drafting of this Act. The first principle is self-regulation. To handle issues relating to occupational safety and health, employers must develop a good and orderly management system. Starting with formation of a safety and health policy and consequently employers have to make the proper arrangements to be carried out. The second principle is consultation, where employers, employees and the government must negotiate to settle issues and problems relating to occupational safety and health at the workplace. The third principle is co-operation, where employers and employees must co-operate to take care, nurture and to increase the quality of occupational safety and health at the workplace. Without co-operation between employers and employees, none of the occupational safety and health programmes carried out would succeed.

This Act also provide for the appointments of enforcement officers, establishment of National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, formation of policy and arrangement of measures to protect safety, health and welfare of people at work and others who might be endangered by the activities of people at work. The powers to enforce, to inspect and the liabilities for breaking the law are also clearly defined.

With the approval of this Act, starting from April 1994 the Department of Factory and Machinery has been renamed as the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) and the Inspectors are called Occupational Safety and Health Officers.

Under this act, industrial sectors that are covered by it are as follows:

  •  Manufacturing
  •  mining and quarrying
  •  construction
  •  agriculture, forestry and fishing
  •  utilities - gas, electric, water and sanitary services 
  •  transport, storage and communication 
  •  wholesale and retail traders 
  •  hotels and restaurants
  •  finance, insurance, real estate, business service
  •  public services and statutory authorities
Adopted from DOSH Malaysia Website