As the largest global occupational safety event opened in Frankfurt, Germany on Aug. 25, nearly 4,000 occupational safety experts, politicians and scientists from 141 countries convened to discuss ways of making work safer and healthier. The triennial XX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2014 is co-organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Social Security Association (ISSA), and is hosted this year by the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV).
“Solutions to occupational safety problems are being developed worldwide,” said Dr Walter Eichendorf, president of the 2014 World Congress. “ There are examples of best practice, with measures being tested and evaluated in the most diverse of countries. The exchange of ideas at the World Congress prevents anyone from having to start again from zero.”
According to the ILO, 2.3 million people worldwide die annually as a result of occupational illnesses and accidents at work. In addition, there are 860,000 injury-causing occupational accidents every day. The direct or indirect cost of occupational illness and accidents at work is estimated at US$2.8 trillion worldwide.
“These figures are unacceptable and yet these daily tragedies often fail to show up on the global radar,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “Clearly, there is still much to be done. Serious occupational accidents are, firstly, human tragedies but economies and society also pay a high price.”
He added that the right to a safe and healthy workplace “is a basic human right – a right to be respected at every level of development and in different economic conditions. Respecting this human right is an obligation – as well as a condition for sustainable economic development.”
“Investment in risk prevention has led to remarkable socioeconomic benefits,” said ISSA President Errol Frank Stoové, referring to a recent ISSA study that calculates the return on investments in prevention as averaging more than twice the amount invested.
“However, with a dramatically changing world of work, the health and wellbeing of workers remain a concern, in particular due to mental and ergonomic strain,” Stoove added. “This requires that we develop new, integrated strategies for prevention, which connect the safety, health and well-being of the individual.”
Dr. Joachim Breuer, the managing director of the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV), pointed to the occupational accident statistics for DGUV as proof that “Vision Zero is no ivory tower idea. It’s feasible.
“A hundred years ago in Germany there were 10,000 deaths a year at work. Last year the figure was less than 500 deaths for the first time,” said Breuer, who added that the number of reportable accidents had been halved in the past 20 years alone. “This success is not just specific to Germany – it’s repeatable. Experience and many examples from our international cooperation efforts have shown us this.”
Said Ryder, “Prevention is possible, it is necessary and it pays.”