28th Apr, 2006: Manilla, Philippines - It may seem off track for the health section to deal with this topic or issue, but in the interest of the public we will take it up as well. As physicians we may be talking about some new treatment modalities and management for pneumonia or the newest trend on the field of medicine, but we must not forget that we should also be involved in addressing problems that affect our surrounding and community.
Recently, residents as well as officials of three barangays in La Paz district were disturbed by the existence of a pest locally known as "hukaw" probably coming from a feed mill. Apparently, industrial and occupational medicine covers this problem on "hukaw".
The company manufactures animal feeds, thus as a practitioner in the field of occupational and industrial medicine it is my view that existence of "hukaw" boils down to the process flow on how to arrive to the final or finished product. It can be assumed that there are defects in the process flow or production line reason why such pest proliferate. Thus, if we apply the situation to the company involved they (company) could be made liable for the problem. The problem may be traced beginning with the stocking of raw materials like grains, corn and other legumes that are either milled or mixed to come up with a finish product.
When issues like social or corporate responsibility are involved the company or establishment have the sole function to address the situation. Thus, if a factory or plant is set up near or in the middle of a barangay it is the sole responsibility of the company or plant to take care of its surrounding barangays. They should not only be concerned about the profit they could gain from their business but should also put its interest on the health and welfare of its workers or employees and as well as their surrounding community.
Each company has their own mission and vision, thus remember that their main objective is not only for profit but also concerns about worker's health and especially on the effects of the "process flow or plant flow" to the surrounding community.
In the practice of industrial medicine, the problem on "hukaw" is considered as an extrinsic factor form of hazard or agent like its counterpart the virus, bacteria and fungus. Like any dust or fumes emanating from industries it should be addressed by the company. That's the job of either of the safety officer of the company who is an engineer by profession, or the company physician, who his trained and certified in the basic course of Occupational Safety and Health as provided by the Labor Code of the Philippines (PD#442).
Measures should have already been applied at the start of the discovery of the pest like administrative controls, engineering controls and personal protective equipment (PPE). In a "legitimate" industry these practices are always in place, dealing with grains and the dust that comes from it the workers should be provided with respirators or mask for protection not to breathe in any dust that will eventually manifest in the workers. (Remember exposures to dust does not have immediate effect, but with continuous exposure to the offending agent manifestations are seen in years to come.)
With the sole principle of corporate responsibility each industry, plant and company have that obligation to the community and especially to its workers, companies should not be profit motivated but hopefully will have that social conscience that human beings exist and the interaction among them is the reason that will get us going. The practice of industrial/occupational medicine is the only specialized field of medicine that deals with 3 to 4 government agencies--DOLE and its attached agencies, like the Occupational Safety and Health Center, the Bureau of Working Conditions, the DOH (Sanitation Code of the Philippines), DILG and DENR.
Let us not wait for any tragedy to happen then enact legislations. We have to take preventive measures to protect ourselves and our community, the reason why Public Health exists in which industrial and occupational medicine falls under.
For the companies and industry involved hire a competent and qualified Occupational Health Physician and a qualified and licensed Safety Officer to address your problems.
By Florentino P. Alerta II, M.D.