International Labor Organization (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder used the occasion of World Safety and Health at Work Day to remind us that ensuring decent, safe, and healthy working conditions and environments is the responsibility of us all.
Ryder took office on Oct. 1, 2012 and sees the ILO as absolutely central to the questions of the day: jobs, social protection, the fight against poverty and equality. Ryder wants the ILO to play a role in difficult global situations – such as economic crisis – and on the national agendas of countries undergoing change, especially where the world of work is at stake.
The news is punctuated periodically by intense coverage of dramatic, heartbreaking stories that capture global attention: health workers infected while caring for patients with deadly diseases, trapped miners who may or may not resurface, factory building collapses, plane crashes, explosions of oil rigs and nuclear accidents.
While the media eventually move on to other topics, working in hazardous conditions is a daily, routine task for many workers. The numbers are striking: Over 313 million workers suffer non-fatal occupational injuries each year, equating to 860,000 people injured on the job daily.
Every single day, 6,400 people die from an occupational accident or disease, amounting to 2.3 million deaths each year. Work-related accidents or diseases can definitely be placed in the high-burden category of all global health problems.
According to ILO, economic recession or pressure to maximize profits cannot justify cutting corners in workplace safety. Actually, failure to do so comes at a high price. Four percent of global gross domestic product, equivalent to an astounding U.S. $2.8 trillion, is drained off annually by costs related to lost work days, interruptions in production, treatment of occupational injuries and diseases, rehabilitation and compensation for injured or killed workers and their families.
A long-standing ILO priority, occupational safety and health was recognized as a fundamental human right in the 2008 Seoul Declaration on Safety and Health at Work.
“It is time to turn this human right into reality for workers everywhere,” said Ryder. “Good governance on occupational safety and health shows that prevention pays. Today, on the occasion of World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the ILO calls for urgent action to build a culture of prevention on occupational safety and health.”
What does a national culture of prevention on occupational safety and health involve? According to Ryder:
- Respecting at all levels the right to a safe and healthy working environment;
- Active participation of all stakeholders in securing a safe and healthy working environment through a system of defined rights, responsibilities and duties; and
- Giving the highest priority to the principle of prevention.
A culture of prevention must be founded on the engagement of many partners, said Ryder, including governments, workers and employers and their organizations, specialists and experts. “Constructive dialogue among these groups promotes consensus building and democratic involvement of those with a vital stake in the world of work,” he added.
He believes it is time to consolidate occupational safety and health achievements in prevention. Good practices should be shared, promoted and emulated where possible, said Ryder, and partnerships forged to accelerate progress towards building a global culture of prevention.
Raising awareness and knowledge of occupational hazards and risks and how to prevent and control them is key for this process, according to the ILO and Ryder. “Good governance will strengthen country capacities and also facilitate mobilization of national and international resources. Spending these funds wisely requires the creation and implementation of effective national occupational safety and health strategies with the aim of extending them to all sectors including micro- and small enterprises, the informal economy and agriculture,” said Ryder.
The ILO has launched a new Safe Day Campaign to raise awareness, secure greater engagement people and support stakeholders.