Field of Occupational Health in Malaysia

Some of us new to the field of Occupational Health have wondered when did this field started in Malaysia. We all know that the Factory and Machinery Act was enacted in 1967, but it is not the first piece of legislation that is a concern for safety and health of workers in Malaysia. There are already few provisions that have existed prior to independence in 1957, like the 1881 Selangor Steam Boiler Ordinance, 1910 Estate Labour (Protection of Health) Enactment, and 1953 Machinery Ordinance.

However, those are just the legislation, what about the profession. The academics from the Department of Social Medicine and Public Health, University of Malaya have been involved in the research and practice of occupational safety and health since its inception in 1948. This is evident by the articles that they have published in peer-reviewed journals on the topics; e.g., “The Employment of Elderly Persons” by TA Lloyd Davies, “Absence of Raynaud’s phenomenon in workers using vibratory tools in a warm climate” by TA Davies, EM Glaser and CP Collins, “Comparative health. I. Industrial medicine in changing societies” by TA Lloyd Davies, “Kaolin pneumoconiosis” by GE Cummins, YS Aun and TA Davies, and “An investigation of absenteeism in selected groups of employees of H. M. Dockyard, Singapore” by J Glass and TA Lloyd Davies.

Further to that in the First Bulletin of the Public Health Society of the Malayan Medical Association (MMA), an article based on the lecture given by J. Blaeske from the World Health Organization at the Malayan Medical Association (Central Branch) on 1st December 1965, highlighted the battery reclaiming workers exposure to lead, arsenicals poisoning in workers and environment, radiation among watch face dial painting, and high-speed machinery and chemicals in textile industries.

He shared a quote from his learned friend, Dr Carey P McCord, “Lead poisoning is like pregnancy, you are never just a little bit pregnant”, and further recommends that the audience examining workers from lead reclaiming operation in the country, we must remember this was many years before the Malaysian 1984 Factory and Machinery Lead Regulation. At that time there were over 350 established limits values for substances used in industry, but how many of those were used in Malaysia. He gave an example of Benzol, which with high exposure for five minutes in a confined space is immediately fatal, and low dose will cause bleeding and blindness. To conclude, he highlighted that “I should like to point out the fact that time is running out and positive steps by Ministry need your support in implementation”. Lets us ponder, fifty years on what have we achieve.

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