Safe and healthy workplaces and workers: a key premise of sustainable development

Government, companies and other key stakeholders in China jointly identify solutions for more innovative work safety governance in the context of open trade, globalization and multilateralism at the 6th Hongqiao International Economic Forum.

Press release | 07 November 2023
The 6th Hongqiao International Economic Forum, Shanghai, 4 - 5 November 2023
BEIJING (ILO News) –The ILO and the Ministry of Emergency Management of China (MEM) hosted a Sub-Forum on Innovation of Work Safety Governance from Global Perspective in Shanghai on the 5th November 2023. This event is a key part of the 6th Hongqiao International Economic Forum, an event organized by the government of China at its annual China International Import Expo to promote high-level dialogue and exchange on promotion of a more open global trade system.

Chang-Hee Lee, Director of ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia, stressed the importance of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as an integral part of the global governance on world of work and the multilateral trade system, with its social underpinning. He underscored the essential role of China in promoting a safe and healthy working environment in a more open world economy. As one of the top countries of Foreign Direct Investment inflows and outflows, China holds an unparalleled position in the global value chains and can have great influence on the working conditions of the global supply chains, including safety and health at work. He highlighted the vital role of MEM in promoting and supporting safe and healthy working conditions in the Chinese supply chains. He further called on large Chinese companies, many of which are already global leaders in OSH management, to play the leading, exemplary, and supportive role in influencing their suppliers which are often SMEs or small and micro businesses in the downstream of the supply chains.

Song Yuanming, Vice-Minister of MEM, shared with the participants the trend of steady improvement of work safety situation in China in the last two decades. From 2012 to 2022, the total work safety accidents and fatality was down by 92.2% and 70.9%, while the number of very big accidents and the related fatality declined by 81.4% and 76.5% in the same period. Though the overall work safety situation has stabilized and improved, he cautioned, the safety risks in traditional sectors have not been fully addressed while new risks are arising from the use of new technologies, new work process and new forms of employment. If only relying on the traditional means and measures, it will be more difficult than before to prevent major work safety accidents. In this context, it is important to innovate both the technology and management approach of work safety. Like “rolling a rock uphill”, he said, we must find ways to address the most fundamental issues of work safety.

Many enterprises perceive work safety as a cost, however there is no contradiction between safety requirement and efficiency, Vice-Minister Song stressed. In fact, work safety can contribute to efficiency and productivity, if there is workplace cooperation between management and workers. Workplace cooperation is the essence of the SCORE (Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises) project which MEM and ILO have very successfully implemented in several provinces, leading to very concrete improvements in safety and productivity at work. In this globalized world, “there is no national boundary in ensuring safety at work”, Vice-Minister Song expressed the commitment of MEM in working together with other countries to responding to these challenges, with the support of the ILO.

At this Sub-Forum, global experts and participants discussed how unprecedented opportunities for improving work safety have been presented by revolutionary technological progress, constantly upgraded equipment, fast automation, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Such technological progress makes it possible to reduce the exposure of workers to safety risks at a much lower cost and use predictive analytics to forecast the likelihood of the next accident. However, it is vital to ensure any decision on using technology for the purpose of improving safety and efficiency is made through social dialogue — consultation between employers and workers. Workplace cooperation is the catalyst for cultivating prevention culture and behaviours, while prevention is fundamental for any innovation solutions of work safety governance.

“A safe and healthy working environment” has been included in the ILO's framework of fundamental principles and rights at work, a decision jointly made by representatives of government, workers and employers of 187 ILO member States in the International Labour Conference in 2022. In the same International Labour Conference, the tripartite constituents of ILO also decided to designate the Occupational Safety and Health Convention (No. 155) and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention (No. 187) as fundamental Conventions. More information about international labour conventions and tools on occupational safety and help can be accessed at ILO website.