“On this World Day, let us mobilize nationally and internationally to secure a safe and healthy working environment for all giving highest priority to the principle of prevention,” says Director-General Juan Somavia of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Each year, 2.3 million workers around the world die because of injuries or illnesses suffered on the job, while 337 million workers suffer from occupational-related injuries.
“From mines to chemical plants, from offices to fields, work-related accidents and illness take a heavier toll in terms of lives lost and disability than global pandemics such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis,” says Somavia. “The tragedy is that so many accidents, illnesses and deaths could be prevented with appropriate managerial measures. It is a matter of respecting the dignity of the human being through the dignity of work; of shaping policies that reflect the central role of work in people’s lives, in peaceful communities, in stable societies and in resilient economies.”
Successfully building a strong preventative safety and health culture depends on strong commitment, collaboration and concerted action by governments, employers and workers and all stakeholders. Conventions 155 and 187, together with the ILO Guidelines of 2001, define the essential elements of a promotional framework for occupational safety and health and the key functions of a management system.
The guidelines have become a widely used tool for developing national standards and programs, says Samovia. Many countries have started to implement them through a number of voluntary or regulatory mechanisms and have formulated national strategies integrating the management systems approach.
However, says Samovia, most work-related injuries, illness and deaths go unreported throughout the world. Workers and families commonly are left with no financial help and no legal recourse.
“We cannot lose sight of those working in the informal economy,” notes Samovia. “Adequate participatory training, awareness raising and low cost measures based on local development approaches and good practices can save lives and contribute to improving work environments in the informal sector.”
Samovia says that while established prevention measures are effective in reducing traditional hazards and risks, many dangers persist or new ones – related to new technologies and new forms of work organization – have been discovered. Risks associated with chemicals and biotechnologies are on the rise, as are psychosocial issues such as workplace stress.
Samovia says that occupational safety and health must be integral components of strategies for productive employment and decent work, and must strike the right balance between voluntary and mandatory approaches reflecting local needs and practice.
“It is a matter of respecting human dignity and the dignity of work,” says Samovia. “It is a matter of ensuring that decent work for all is part of the framework for sustainable growth.”
The “OSH Management System: A Tool for Continual Improvement “ report can be found at http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_protect/---protrav/---safework/documents/publication/wcms_153930.pdf.