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The XIX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work – the world’s largest gathering of health and safety experts – opened in Istanbul with the aim of strengthening global commitment to a culture of safety and health at work amid the ongoing challenges of global economic uncertainty.
The five-day meeting brings together more than 3,000 policy-makers, experts, industry and labour leaders from over 100 countries to discuss issues such as comprehensive and proactive approaches to safety and health at work; social dialogue and partnerships on occupational safety and health; and new challenges in a changing world of work and an uneven global economic recovery.
The congress seeks to build on the Seoul Declaration on Safety and Health at Work, adopted at the Safety and Health Summit held on the occasion of the XVIII World Congress in June 2008, just prior to the onset of the global economic and jobs crisis. The Seoul Declaration committed its signatories to “taking a lead in promoting a preventative safety and health culture and placing occupational safety and health high on national agendas”.
It also stated for the first time that the right to a safe and healthy working environment should be recognized as a fundamental human right.
Participants to the congress will discuss the latest ILO “Global Trends and Challenges on Occupational Safety and Health”. The report shows that the overall number of fatal work-related accidents and diseases increased between 2003 and 2008. At the same time, the report also says that while the number of fatal accidents declined from 358,000 to 321,000, but the number of fatal diseases increased from 1.95 million to 2.02 million over the same period.
This equates to an average of more than 6,300 work-related deaths every day, and with some 317 million workers injured in accidents at work each year, a daily average of some 850,000 injuries that result in four or more day absences from work.
According to the report, there have been considerable advances in occupational safety and health over the past decades. This is due to an increased understanding in many countries of the need to prevent accidents and occupational diseases. There is also a growing acceptance of the heavy burdens that unsafe and unhealthy working conditions impose on women and men’s health and their well-being, in addition to the adverse affects on productivity, employment and the economy as a whole.
However, the report also states that “the global economic recession appears to have had a significant impact on workers’ safety and health and on their working conditions. While it is too soon to tell what long-term effect it has had on rates of accidents and ill-health, there is evidence that some of the recent advances in terms of promoting OSH are being lost as enterprises struggle to remain productive”.
“Increased work intensity due to the pressures in enterprise performance can lead to less time being given to prevention and less effective OSH management systems,” the report says. “Plant maintenance schedules are at risk of being cut back, increasing the risks of accidents through poor maintenance and lack of investment in newer equipment. This may also mean that workers have to continue working with older and more hazardous installations, equipment and tools”.
The report also notes that psychological factors, such as stress, harassment and violence at work have a marked impact on workers’ health, adding that “such factors are likely to be more significant as employment becomes more precarious for some, and workloads and working hours often increase for those remaining in employment”.
The XIX World Congress, co-organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Social Security Association (ISSA) in cooperation with the Turkish Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MOLSS), is also expected to set the guidelines and priorities ahead of the next global gathering in 2014.
Source: With information from the ILO bulletin ILO News.