Marking the 2014 World Day for Safety and Health at Work, which also is Worker Memorial Day in the United States and the National Day of Mourning in Canada, a report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that while chemicals can be useful, necessary steps should be taken to prevent and control potential risks for workers, workplaces, communities and the environment.
According to ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy working environment.
“This year we are paying particular attention to health and safety issues related to the use of chemicals in production processes,” said Ryder. “Chemicals are integral components of many processes and are key ingredients of products that have come to be part and parcel of daily life. Yet chemicals may also entail significant risks for workers, workplaces, communities and the environment.”
The potential dangers range from health hazards – such as cancers, physical hazards like flammability – to environmental hazards, including widespread contamination and toxicity to aquatic life. Ryder, who acknowledged there still are too many serious incidents that are fatal or highly damaging to human health and the environment., adding, “They must spur us to act and to act with a sense of urgency – globally, regionally, nationally and at workplace level.”
Relevant ILO standards provide guidance to governments, employers and workers and their organizations, and all stakeholders on the prevention and management of occupational hazards and risks related to the use of chemicals at work. They also advise on measures to prevent the negative impact on the environment of workplace use of chemicals. They provide the basis of a coherent global approach.
Ryder added there are many avenues for protecting workers and supporting sustainable enterprise development through sound EHS policies and practices. These include practical experience that can be drawn upon in shaping strategies for sound chemical management, and initiatives to share such experience would be one means of supporting action. Laws and regulations as well as risk assessment and the control and elimination of risks and inspection and information sharing are additional ways to protect workers and the environment.
“Success requires commitment and consultation, said Ryder. “A good culture of social dialogue involving governments, employers, workers and their organizations will also help to advance OSH objectives.
“Today, let us focus on what each of us can do to make a positive difference in workplaces, small and large. Let us commit to decent work strategies that respect human dignity and the dignity of work by protecting the right of all workers to a safe and healthy working environment.”