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TWO MILLION KILLED AT WORK EACH YEAR
Dr. Jukka Takala, Director, SafeWork
International Labour Office (ILO)
About two million people are killed by their work every year.
That is a global figure, drawn from the most recent
estimates of the International Labour Office (ILO).
Two million killed. Two hundred and seventy millions injured in work accidents. If terrorism took such a toll, just imagine what would be said and done. Yet this workplace tragedy rarely hits the headlines.
Fatalities are not fated. Accidents don't just happen. They are caused. Cancer - for example caused by asbestos, other carcinogenic dusts and chemicals and ionizing radiation - is the biggest factor in work-related deaths (an estimated 32 per cent), followed by circulatory diseases (23 per cent - caused for example by night and shift work, stress, some chemicals and second hand tobacco smoke at workplaces, accidents (19 per cent and communicable diseases (17 per cent). These figures are quite different in various parts of the world: accident rates, for example, are very high in the Asian tiger economies. Furthermore, accidents occur to relatively young people causing a major burden of lost work and life years.
Clearly, most of these deaths are preventable.
That message has to be put across, and the International Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April gives all of us a special chance to do so. Three points need to be stressed here:
and commitment has a key role. Companies that have an occupational
safety and health management system (OSH-MS) set up according to ILO Guidelines,
ILO-OSH 2001, have both better safety and productivity records.
On both these counts, the ILO's SafeWork programme is well-placed to influence the global agenda. The world's worker, employer and government representatives meet on equal terms within the ILO. Trade union rights are at the heart of its standard-setting activities, as are health and safety. And the ILO is currently campaigning for the provision of "decent work" worldwide. Obviously, decent jobs must also be safe jobs.
There are some signs that the world may be getting more serious about occupational safety and health. Certainly, within the UN family of which the ILO is part, the political commitment has been growing. That became clear on Workers' Memorial Day last year, when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in New York that "safety and health of workers is a part and parcel of human security Safe Work is not only sound economic policy, it is a basic human right." On the same day, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia told an audience in Geneva that "Decent Work must be Safe Work, and we are a long way from achieving that goal."
The "business case" for good occupational health and safety has also become clearer. Obviously, the prime motive must be to protect people. But if better workplace safety boosts profits, there is no harm in saying so.
Corporations feel a growing need to produce public, credible reports on their sustainability. The main current reporting formats include workplace health and safety issues as well as environmental performance and social points such as trade union rights. Injuries and sick leave have long been identified as major costs for companies, but there is also a growing body of evidence that effective occupational safety and health management has a positive impact on a firm's stock market performance.
As with companies, so with countries. It is sometimes claimed that high health and safety standards can reduce competitiveness, so that poorer nations "cannot afford" good health and safety. That was always a distasteful argument, and we now know that it is unsound. Recent studies by the World Economic Forum and the Lausanne Institute of Management IMD linked to ILO data show that the most competitive countries are also the safest.
For its part, the ILO is pursuing two major strategies to improve the implementation of its standards:
An integrated approach to streamline all its means of action, including standard-setting, codes and guidelines, technical cooperation, international cooperation, statistical analysis and information dissemination, so as to achieve more effective occupational safety and health implementation by member states.
Use of voluntary measures and, in particular,
wide use of the ILO's new Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health
Management Systems, ILO-OSH 2001. The aim is to establish a proper safety
culture at the enterprise level. Governments can be involved in supporting
such management systems and establishing a national framework for their
promotion. Equally we must ask governments to fulfill their role in setting
their own national safety and health targets that are measurable.
The ILO's aims include:
SafeWork programmes at the company, national and international levels.
A National SafeWork Programme consists of:
A functioning recording, notification and indicator system in order to gain a better picture of the problems and allow follow-up.
Development of a modern labour inspection system - strengthening it qualitatively and quantitatively.
Measurable targets for reducing occupational accidents and work-related diseases by targeting their causal factors (say, a 20 per cent reduction in the fatal accident rate within the next five years as measured by reliable records). A national profile or an inventory of the present safety and health state is a starting point.
Gradually extending the coverage of protective measures, compensation in case of injuries and occupational health services to workers not yet covered, such as those in agriculture, in the informal sector and the self-employed.
Click here for Table 1. Fatalities caused by work-related diseases and occupational accidents, year 2000
For full information on the Global Estimates of Fatalities
and Accidents, more
For more about ILO SafeWork, visit us on the Web
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