Important to protect the 1 billion workers exposed to chemicals globally with knowledge about their safe use and handling

Address by Ms Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi, at the MoU signing for the International Chemical Safety Cards with the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers.

Statement | New Delhi | 27 July 2022
Honourable Minister, Esteemed Secretary, members of the dais, employer and worker representatives, ladies and gentlemen.

Namaskar and a very good morning to you!

It is an outmost honour to be here with you today to launch the Chemical safety cards on the initiative of the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers! I did not hesitate to enter into this collaboration.

To start with, I need to recognize the ILO constituents (governments, employers and workers) of the 187 member States who just last month at the International Labour Conference, uplifted the importance of OSH, to become part of the fundamental principles and rights at work. This initiative today is a step in that direction!

Chemicals are widely used throughout society, with both positive and negative effects on health, well-being, socio-economic aspects and the environment. Nearly 1 billion workers around the world are disproportionally exposed, particularly in developing countries, economies in transition and in the informal economy, to hazardous substances, including pollutants, dusts, vapours and fumes.

Workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals throughout the supply chain: from production, to handling, to storage, to transport, to disposal and treatment of waste chemicals.
Globally, an estimated 1 million workers lose their lives each year due to exposure to hazardous chemicals, succumbing to fatal diseases, cancers and poisonings, or from fatal injuries following fires or explosions. For those who do not lose their lives, they may face non-fatal injuries and diseases resulting in disability, debilitating chronic disease and other health impacts. All these deaths, injuries and illnesses are usually entirely preventable.

Major industrial accidents, such as the 2020 Beirut Port Explosion of ammonium nitrate, show the urgency of this global health crisis.
While the health effects of some occupational chemical exposures are well established, it is likely that the long-term health impacts of certain chemicals will only become evident years from now. What is clear however, is that the utilization of hazardous chemicals in consumer products and industrial processes will only increase, leading to an even higher burden of disease and adverse consequences for the environment.

What is clear is that we can no longer afford to be complacent in our global mismanagement of chemicals, and a new approach is urgently needed to protect the millions of workers exposed in their everyday work. Effective and evidence-based systems for the sound management of chemicals must be implemented at both the national and workplace level as a matter of urgency, in order to protect workers, their families, make businesses more sustainable, as well as the wider communities.
The ILO was founded on the concept of guaranteeing adequate protection for the life and health of workers in all occupations, including workers exposed to hazardous substances and we continue to be a major actor in the international fora on chemical safety and waste management. We have a large number of Conventions to create a strong preventative and protective foundation in the area of chemicals and the world of work.

ILO Conventions and Recommendations in the field of Chemical Safety

I am happy and pleased to enter into this collaboration with the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers by signing the MOU we have prepared.

Thank you for your kind attention!