GENEVA - The millions of workers who die each year from work-related accidents or diseases or are injured will be remembered at a special ceremony to mark Workers' Memorial Day on Monday, 29 April at the International Labour Organization's (ILO) headquarters in Geneva. On this occasion, the ILO is bringing its tripartite strength to a campaign initiated in 1995 by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
The purpose of Workers' Memorial Day is to call attention to the extent of workplace accidents and illness and to promote awareness of health and safety issues in general. This year's meeting will focus on the dangers faced by a particularly vulnerable category of workers, those in emergency services, including firefighters, ambulance drivers, doctors and nurses and police men and women.
The meeting takes place from 11:30 to 12:30 in the Governing Body room of the ILO. It will be addressed by ILO Director-General Juan Somavia and will hear a videotaped message from Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations.
Among the special invited guests are two representatives of the New York City Fire Department, Brian Cleary and Keith Ruby who will speak on behalf of the International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO about the hazardous rescue operations undertaken in the aftermath of the September 11 bombing at the World Trade Center.
Other participants include the chief of the fire brigade of Geneva canton, Colonel Lieutenant Olivier Légeret as well as representatives of firefighters from France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The ceremony will also be addressed by Dr. Tesfamichael Ghebrehiwet from the International Council of Nurses and Ross Harvey, Executive Officer from Public Services International.
The event will be opened with a symbolic candle lighting ceremony in memory of workers who are killed, injured or fall ill due to unsustainable forms of production. After the interventions from special guests, a minute of silence will be observed, followed by the signing of a Memorial Book opened for the occasion. All written tributes will be posted on the internet. At the conclusion, there will be a special salute from the Geneva firefighters outside the ILO.
The ILO estimates that approximately two million workers lose their lives annually due to occupational injuries and illnesses, with accidents causing at least 350,000 deaths a year. For every fatal accident, there are an estimated 1,000 non-fatal injuries, many of which result in lost earnings, permanent disability and poverty. The death toll at work, much of which is attributable to unsafe working practices, is the equivalent of 5,000 workers dying each day, three persons every minute.
This is more than double the figure for deaths from warfare (650,000 deaths per year). According to the ILO's SafeWork programme, work kills more people than alcohol and drugs together and the resulting loss in Gross Domestic Product is 20 times greater than all official development assistance to the developing countries. Hazardous substances kill 340,000 per year, with a single substance, asbestos, accounting for 100,000 of those. Exposure to daily occupational hazards such as dust, chemicals, noise and radiation cause untold suffering and illness, including cancers, heart diseases and strokes.
According to the ILO, at least half of the deaths from accidents could be prevented by safe working practices and all accidents are avoidable and preventable. Agriculture, construction and mining are the three most hazardous occupations in both developing and industrialized countries.