7th China International Forum on Work Safety

ILO Deputy Director-General's address to the International Forum on Work Safety

Statement | 23 September 2014
Gilbert Houngbo, ILO Deputy-Director General for field operations and parterships
Your Excellency, Honourable State Councillor Wang Yong,
Your Excellency, Minister Yang Dongliang, State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS),
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Office, let me thank you for inviting the International Labour Organization to the 7th China International Forum on Work Safety. My sincere congratulations to the Organizers of this Forum for the tremendous efforts in making this forum a success.

I am particularly pleased to have State Councillor Wang Yong with us today together with other ministers and vice ministers of the State Council’s Work Safety Committee, and to see so many world leaders and distinguished experts from the field of occupational safety and health gathering in China from often far away countries.

This international forum provides us with another excellent opportunity to continue to promote a global culture for the prevention of occupational injuries, accidents and diseases through the sharing of knowledge and experience and to learn from each other over the next few days.

One month ago, at the XX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Frankfurt, Germany, the ILO Director-General Guy Ryder called for “a culture of intolerance towards risks at work,’’ and he made clear the ILO would focus its energies on actions that would achieve that end.

Only days ago, Ministers of Labour and Employment of the G20 and visiting economies called for making workplaces safer and healthier an urgent priority, considering that safe and healthy workplaces are an essential element of strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth. Work-related accidents and diseases are not only a human tragedy, they also contribute to lost workdays, diminished productivity, poor relations between employers and workers, and other consequences that harm individuals, families, enterprises, communities, and national economies.

According to ILO estimates, occupational injuries and diseases cause over 2.3 million fatalities each year, of which 350,000 are caused by occupational injuries and close to 2 million by work-related diseases. This means that approximately 6,300 people die each day from work-related injuries and diseases.

Work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses take a particularly heavy toll in developing countries, where national institutions and systems for occupational safety and health, in particular workplace inspection systems, are not well established or functioning and cannot effectively respond to an increasing number of industrial activities and the hazards they bring to the workplace.

The challenge faced by developing countries has become a global one, with industrial disasters often occurring in the weakest link of the global supply chains, such as the Rana Plaza factory building collapse in Bangladesh last year, which killed 1,129 workers and injured 2,500 more.

I was personally involved in the international response to this tragedy, and I strongly believe ‘’ it was not about an accident in one building. It was about an issue that had severe implications for many countries. It was about global governance, global rules and regulations.”

Nearly 100 years ago, the ILO was founded on the conviction that social justice is essential to universal and lasting peace. Since 1919, its mandate has been to ensure every human being has the right to earn a living in freedom, equity, security and dignity. In short, every human being has the right to decent work.

Clearly, ensuring that workers are able to earn a living in safe and healthy workplaces and being safe at work is a basic human right. Occupational safety and health not only affects workers but also concerns their families and the society in which they work and live. For employers, “good safety is good business” -prevention and control of risks should be part of every business plan. Those who make the effort to prevent occupational injuries and diseases will find their efforts rewarded. For governments, OSH is central to good governance. In a word, OSH is a win-win undertaking for all stakeholders.

To address the global challenges on OSH over time, the ILO together with governments, workers and employers has developed international occupational safety and health standards and promoted their application in member States.

The most recent ILO Convention in the area of OSH is the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187). This Convention provides the framework for continual improvement of national OSH systems together with other relevant Conventions, particularly Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981(No. 155), which has been ratified by China.

Labour inspection including OSH inspection, recommended in the Labour Inspection Convention (No. 81), have proved to be indispensable in safeguarding both workers and employers in the market economy. 145 member States of the ILO – have ratified this Convention and we hope China will soon join this still growing majority of world economies.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
China’s social and economic development in the past three decades has propelled the country to the status of the second largest economy in the world. China has maintained social stability, not least by prioritizing employment, by developing social security systems and by improving harmonious labour relations in workplaces.

President Xi Jinping recently stated that human life is of the utmost importance. Development must not be at the expense of people's lives. It must serve as an unquestionable red line. China embraces the principle of safe development, is regularly reviewing its national safety and health policies, and developed a five-year national work safety programme to continuously improve safety and health at work.

We have witnessed the continuous reinforcement of safety and health measures in China in recent years. As a result, the Government could report earlier this year that the number of serious and major work-related accidents decreased by 16.9 % in 2013 compared to the previous year. The Work Safety Law was just revised by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China to strengthen the legal responsibilities of employers to control hazards in workplaces and of OSH inspectors to enforce the laws. The Law on Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases was also recently revised to improve the recognition of occupational diseases and to give greater attention to an integrated approach to prevent both occupational accidents and diseases in workplaces.

Through the joint efforts of the relevant Ministries, China has extended the coverage of Work Injury Insurance, especially to provide coverage for more rural-urban migrant workers. Based on international good practices, it would be desirable to enhance the preventive function of the scheme to help SMEs and migrant workers to upgrade their knowledge and capabilities to control safety and health risks at work. The Office of the State Council’s Work Safety Committee can play a coordinating role in promoting joint efforts and programmes of the relevant ministries and organizations.

The social partners in China have also been active in promoting occupational safety and health. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) has developed its own safety and health strategy and networks to actively participate in law-making and the mass supervision,and participates in investigating major cases of occupational accidents and diseases. ACFTU has organized an annual nationwide advocacy campaign “Ankang (safety and health) Cup” since 1998 and recently awarded honorary certificates of excellence to 2,270 enterprises and public institutions as well as 1,517 workshop groups of enterprises. ACFTU has worked with State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) to train 10,000 safety supervisors in coal mines.

Employers are responsible for providing their workers with a safe and healthy working environment in line with the laws and regulations. A preventative safety and health culture starts with top management, from their commitment and leadership, and is sustained by the joint ownership of the risk management process by employers and workers in daily life on the shop-floor. The involvement of every individual worker in the process is necessary for its success. Since 2002, the SAWS has organized an annual “Work Safety Month” in June, a nationwide advocacy campaign, to promote the safety culture among employers and workers in workplaces and the society as a whole in collaboration with the departments concerned. The ILO has cooperated with the China Enterprises Confederation (CEC) to promote an action-oriented safety and health training programme, called “Work Improvement in Small Enterprises (WISE)” through its Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises (SCORE) project.

Despite its progress on OSH, China due to its rapid industrialization and urbanization, still faces significant challenges in preventing and reducing the occurrence of major industrial accidents, particularly in the mining sector, as well as preventing occupational diseases, such as pneumoconiosis.

The ILO will continue to support the Chinese government and social partners in their endeavour. The ILO and the SAWS have worked together to strengthen the capacity building of OSH inspectorate, which is the backbone of law enforcement and provision of information and advice to employers and workers in terms of workplace compliance.

The ILO is working to launch a global initiative on OSH together with its member States to address the global OSH challenges, focusing on strengthening workplace compliance though labour inspection and protecting vulnerable groups of workers in workplaces.

In the coming days, the Forum will organize technical sessions to address workplace compliance, safety management and risk control in hazardous sectors like chemicals and mining, and to exchange experience and good practices. I believe that this Forum will offer a good opportunity to reinforce our networks and common commitment to international and regional cooperation. It also serves our joint efforts for ensuring safe and healthy workplaces, in the pursuit of Decent Work for all women and men.

I wish the 7th China International Forum on Work Safety a complete success!

Thank you.