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90th Session, 3 - 20 June 2002



Report of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases

Committee report

Submission, discussion and adoption

Original French: The PRESIDENT — We shall proceed to the examination of the report of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases, which is contained in Provisional Record No.24.

I invite the Chairperson, Mr. Schlettwein (Government delegate, Namibia), the Employer Vice-Chairperson, Mr. Cunneen (Employers’ delegate, Ireland), the Worker Vice-Chairperson, Mr. Robertson (Workers’ delegate, United Kingdom), and the Reporter, Mr. Coseru (Government adviser, Romania) to come and take their place on the podium.

I give the floor to Mr. Coseru, Reporter of the Committee, to submit the report.

Mr. COSERU (Government adviser, Romania; Reporter of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases) — It is always a privilege to address the International Labour Conference and I am especially honoured that the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases has chosen me to enjoy this privilege. It is a particular pleasure to come before you today to report on the success of our Committee in establishing the texts of a proposed Protocol to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), and a proposed Recommendation concerning the list of occupational diseases and the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases. Before presenting the results of our Committee’s work, I would like to congratulate the President on his election to chair this important session of the Conference.

The first report we had before us, No. V(1), recounts that, despite enormous advances in technology, preventive medicine and the means to prevent accidents, the ILO and the World Health Organization estimate that each year around 1.2 million work-related deaths, 250 million accidents and 160 million work-related diseases occur worldwide.

Death, illness and injury on such a scale impoverish individuals and their families and undermine attempts to improve working conditions. In addition to immeasurable human suffering, they cause major economic losses for enterprises and societies as a whole, such as lost productivity and reduced work capacity. It is estimated that around 4 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) is lost in terms of various direct and indirect costs, including compensation, medical expenses, property damage, lost earnings and replacement training.

Information is needed, particularly by those charged with the task of remedying this situation, in order to understand what preventive action is necessary. This information must be sufficiently comprehensive and, above all, accurate. In fact, while a number of countries have provisions for the notification of occupational accidents and diseases to national authorities, few countries provide for recording at the level of the enterprise. The method of recording and level of detail required are also subject to some variation.

The notification of occupational accidents and diseases is generally linked either to a national workers’ compensation scheme or to a statutory requirement to report to the competent authority. Differences in the organizational arrangements for the collection of data can have an impact on the reported numbers of occupational accidents and diseases. The nature and range of occupational accidents that are notifiable to national authorities differ primarily according to what sectors of specific groups of workers are covered, the size of the enterprise and whether commuting accidents are covered. The identification of what causes diseases can be a complex and difficult matter owing to the long latency period of some diseases and the multiple causes of certain others.

The under-reporting of occupational accidents and diseases is widespread, although the number of accidents and diseases that go unreported is difficult to quantify. Given the diverse systems of occupational accident and disease recording and notification in member States, it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty whether the available information accurately reflects the actual situation.

It is one of the accomplishments of our Committee that our proposed Protocol to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), and the proposed Recommendation concerning the list of occupational diseases and the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases embrace so many of these factors. Report V(2B), with which we began our work, provided a very solid and sound basis. The proposed Protocol and proposed Recommendation underwent close scrutiny and some substantial modifications.

As an important element of enterprise occupational safety and health management systems, employers need to record information about accidents and diseases and, as appropriate, dangerous occurrences, commuting accidents and suspected cases of occupational diseases, along with the results of their investigation.

This record must be sufficiently detailed to include the essential facts. The employer is thus able to analyse the information, obtain appropriate support where necessary, understand the circumstances, and take the necessary remedial steps to prevent a recurrence in the enterprise as far as possible. On the other hand, the workers and their representatives should be aware of the notified cases so that they can contribute to improving working conditions.

At the national level the information compiled on the nature and circumstances or causes of occupational accidents, diseases and, as appropriate, dangerous occurrences, commuting accidents and suspected cases of occupational diseases is generally based on information recorded and notified by the employers. The competent authorities should annually publish statistics that are compiled in such a way as to be representative of the country as a whole, concerning occupational accidents, occupational diseases and, as appropriate, dangerous occurrences and commuting accidents, as well as the analyses thereof.

The Committee held 12 sittings and examined 188 amendments, of which 101 were withdrawn after more or less discussion, 21 adopted by consensus, one adopted by a vote, and two rejected by a vote. The remaining 63 amendments were withdrawn en bloc when, in the highest degree of consensus, it was decided that the list of occupational diseases would be referred to a meeting of experts.

We feel that the exchange of ideas that we have enjoyed in the last two weeks will set standards for every member State in the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases.

We made an effort to find a proper balance between generality and specificity in the two instruments before us. It is our belief that the proposed Protocol and proposed Recommendation will add important strength and also flexibility to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155).

The fact that only three votes were held is testimony to our attempt to find consensus. This ability to reach practical consensus without compromising principles is a gift abundantly shared by Mr. Schlettwein, the Chairperson, and Mr. Cunneen and Mr. Robertson, the Vice-Chairpersons of our Committee. I would also like to pay tribute to the contributions of the Legal Adviser of the Conference and his team, both during the sittings of the Committee and during the Drafting Committee meetings that successfully integrated the many amendments and stylistic changes adopted during our two weeks of deliberations.

Finally, deep thanks to Mr. Takala, the representative of the Secretary-General, and his team of experts, secretaries, clerks, typists and others whose work was essential to the successful conclusion of our activities. It is the outcome of those activities — our report and the proposed Protocol and proposed Recommendation — that I now have the pleasure of submitting for your consideration and recommending for your adoption.

Mr. CUNNEEN (Employers’ delegate, Ireland; Employer Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases) — It is my honour as the Employer spokesperson of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases to address this assembly today.

The Employers’ group all agree on the need to improve workplace health and safety. Where there are differences between the Employers’ group and the other groups, these are in the area of how to achieve an agreed outcome, not on the outcome itself.

It is important for all of us to recall that the issue of standard-setting policy itself has been debated and a future direction accepted within the Governing Body. It was agreed to create an approach which should lead to clearer and more relevant standards which are universally applicable. An instrument with only 37 ratifications is not, we believe, strengthened by a Protocol of this kind. It will do little, if anything, to extend health and safety protection throughout the world.

We do not believe that the proposed Protocol being considered here today meets the criteria set by the Governing Body. Furthermore, any instrument whose language includes provisions which are vague or undefined is also failing to match these criteria, and this, we believe, is the case with respect to certain provisions of this proposed Protocol.

For these reasons, and for these reasons only, the Employers’ group will abstain from the vote on the Protocol tomorrow, while voting to adopt the proposed Recommendation as a text. We believe this is wholly consistent with the approach on standard setting adopted by the Governing Body.

The fundamental purpose of requiring employers to record occupational accidents and diseases is prevention — to enable employers, with the cooperation of their workers, to take appropriate corrective workplace measures. Furthermore, in being required to notify the competent authorities of occupational accidents and diseases, employers contribute to enabling governments to establish national statistics to guide them in taking any necessary action, including, where appropriate, the adoption of legislation.

In reviewing the Committee’s deliberations, I do not intend to report in detail either on the outcome or the process. This has been done already very skilfully by our Reporter. Instead, I have taken from the discussion a number of themes, which, I believe, reflect the contrasting perspectives which emerged and the balance which we achieved between them.

The themes I have selected are legislation and persuasion, responsibility and power, science and society, flexibility and dogmatism.

The first theme, legislation and persuasion, is, I hope, intended to convey the different approaches of Government and Workers, as opposed to Employers, on the most appropriate method of achieving the goal of recording and notification. The Workers and Governments both favoured the Protocol approach, which clearly lies in the category of legislation. The Employers, on the other hand, favoured a Recommendation as more likely to command the widest appeal and therefore most likely to be effective. Employers, in taking this view, were very much influenced by the fact that, without the ratification of the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), a Protocol linked to it has little likelihood of being operative. In the 21 years since its adoption by the Conference, only 37 of the ILO’s 176 member States have actually ratified it. Moreover, in our Committee, only 13 of those 37 member States actually voiced themselves as being in favour of drawing up a proposed Protocol.

So, whatever the future, only 20 per cent of the member States of this Organization have ratified Convention No.155 up to the present. The Employers’ reservations are a reflection of this reality. Within days of the vote by Government and Workers to take the Protocol route, it was interesting to see the reservations which many member States were expressing on the difficulties which they were encountering in implementing the basic requirements of the proposed Protocol, such as the provision of some forms of national accident statistics.

It was against this background that the Employers’ group took a firm stand and opted for a Recommendation rather than a Protocol. That was why we requested a record vote in the Committee, to allow each delegate to reflect fully on the form of the instrument proposed.

However, irrespective of the form of instrument adopted tomorrow, the employers will continue to strive in a manner they believe most effective in order to achieve the objective of prevention of workplace accidents, with the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases as an important part of that mission.Where our views differ from those of Government and Workers’ delegates is that we would wish the objective which has been set to be described rather than prescribed.

My second theme is power and responsibility. We, the Employers, believe very strongly that power and responsibility should be viewed as a single integrated entity, not separated. This is the case in the field of workplace health and safety. As in any other area of human endeavour, it is precisely because workers are such a valuable, in fact the most valuable, asset of any enterprise, that we the Employers have come here to this Conference to work towards measures to strengthen protection of the safety and health of the workers.

It is a matter of regret to the Employers that, apart from a general reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), the Workers’ group did not take up the invitation of the Employers to become involved in the search for a more structured and a more recognized role for workers in the area of workplace health and safety.

Such an involvement in the shared responsibility or duty — or any other definition or description of the Workers’ own choosing — would more accurately reflect the true contribution workers could make in improving workplace health and safety. Indeed, in the area of reporting accidents within the enterprise, their role has to be seen as key. Apart from making a positive contribution towards workplace health and safety, however lightly their role were to be defined, the result would have been an increase in worker empowerment. When you share responsibility, you also share power.

My third theme is science and society. Carl Sagan, the scientist and astronomer wrote: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” I am happy to record what is, I believe, a significant advance in the recognition of the role of science in workplace health and safety, specifically in the field of occupational diseases. The initiative sponsored by the Employers and supported by the Workers and Governments recommends that the Governing Body of the International Labour Office establish a technical working group to review the list of occupational diseases in a timely fashion, and report back to the Governing Body with its findings and recommendations.

As a first step to move ahead with the implementation of this proposal, the Employers agreed to withdraw their 11-year old non-acceptance of the 1991 list of occupational diseases, which is annexed to the report of the Office. This policy change by the Employers is in the interest of moving the listing and categorization of occupational diseases into the arena in which it properly belongs, that of science. The outcome, a scientifically validated list of occupational diseases, is worth whatever is necessary to achieve it. I believe this Conference can legitimately record this achievement as not just a decision, but more a change in the process of decision-making in the important area of occupational diseases.

My last theme is called flexibility and dogma. The meeting reached a number of decisions which reflected the need to look again at a more dogmatic approach to health and safety recording of notifications. The same approach was used to treat dangerous occurrences and commuting accidents in a different way from actual occupational accidents, as well as to qualify the relationship between recording and notification with compensation. This outcome reflected the perceived need for a more flexible, regionally sensitive approach to specific aspects of workplace health and safety.

May we turn now to the process of the Conference. I would first like to pay tribute to our Chairperson, Mr. Carl Schlettwein. He quite properly encouraged the Committee to seek consensus rather than conflict, and he did so with unfailing courtesy and a gentle sense of humour.

I must also pay tribute to the Office, and to the professionalism of Dr. Takala and his colleagues, especially in the preparation work which they did in advance of this session of the Conference. That is reflected by the very small number of amendments finally adopted.

Next, I would like to pay tribute to the Government and Workers’ delegates, particularly to Hugh Robertson, the Worker Vice-Chairperson. While they did not endorse everything I said on behalf of the Employers, the attitude was very much that of Voltaire who, as many of you know better than I do, was a house builder and general entrepreneur in this area. Indeed, if the ILO had existed then, he could well have been sitting on the Employers’ benches. In any event, as you will know, his view was: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Finally, I want to thank my colleagues, the Employers’ delegates. The level, policy and diversity of their expertise made my task an easy one. I would also like to thank the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), as well as the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC), which selected me as Vice-Chairperson. I would not have survived without the guidance I received from the IOE executive, in particular Daniel Funes de Rioja at policy level and Barbara Perkins at an operational level. They helped me find my way through the intellectual minefield of ILO policies and procedures, and indeed to find my way around this massive building.

Let me end on a positive note. If workplace health and safety policies and practices begin with prevention, the rest will follow. What we must do, all of us, is to lead those we manage, and inspire those we influence towards this goal.

Mr. ROBERTSON (Workers’ delegate, United Kingdom; Worker Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases) — The Workers’ group is not only pleased, but is actually honoured to be able to support the adoption of both the Protocol and the Recommendation. The document that has emerged is practical and flexible, and it will help to address the real issues that are faced in both the developing and the industrialized world.

The changes that have been made during the past two weeks of discussions have actually been very few. We have increased the emphasis on prevention, we have introduced a greater element of flexibility and we have introduced new guarantees of confidentiality and protection against discrimination. All of these, we introduced with the full support of every side of the Committee.

Yet, otherwise, apart from these changes the text is almost exactly as proposed by the original Office text. That does not mean that the Committee has not been successful. Quite the opposite.

The job of the Committee was to scrutinize, not to change, and the fact that, by and large, the Office text stood up to scrutiny is a reflection of the success of the consultation process that had been conducted with such overwhelming support for the text and also of the skills of SafeWork, which drafted it.

On behalf of the Workers’ group, I would like to pay tribute to Dr. Takala and his staff, for their expertise and professionalism.

We would also like to thank the Governments for the way that they engaged in the process. Many of the successful amendments came from the Government side, and on all issues they showed a willingness to listen to arguments and exercise flexibility and pragmatism.

On day one, the Workers’ group stated that we were here to reach a consensus. We believe that we reached that consensus because the Employers’ group, like us, claimed a commitment to reaching an agreement. During the discussions, over two weeks, we had very positive airing of views. Until this morning, the Workers’ group believed that they had reached a consensus.

I am not going to respond to the individual points made by the Employer spokesperson. What I will say, is that all these issues were discussed, in full, in the Committee. I think the vote that took place on Monday speaks for itself.

The vote, I believe, and the consensus which had been achieved, was in no small part due to the efforts of the Chairperson of the Committee whose good-natured and fair conducting of the proceedings ensured that we always made progress, even when a way out seemed impossible.

I would like to also take the opportunity of thanking everyone in the Workers’ group, particularly the secretary to the group, Fiona Murie, from the International Federation of Building and Woodworkers, who did an excellent job and provided support well over and above what could reasonably be expected.

I would also like to thank Ahmed Khalef and Beth Goodson from ACTRAV who provided invaluable practical assistance to the group.

The Protocol which is being supported, and which will be voted on tomorrow, is a Protocol to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155). The Protocol refers specifically to Article 11 of that Convention and develops the existing requirement to record and notify accidents and diseases caused by work and to compile statistics nationally which will help to achieve more coherent and focused prevention programmes.

That Protocol, when approved, may be ratified at the same time as Convention No. 155, or by governments at any time afterwards. The Workers’ group do not believe that the Protocol is in any way a deterrent to ratification of Convention No. 155.

We already know that Convention No. 155 has proved invaluable to many countries in the drafting of legislation. As I said, we had a lengthy discussion on the relative merits of a Protocol. We considered the alternatives, such as a Recommendation, and the vote within the Committee showed that there was overwhelming support from both Governments and Workers for a Protocol. As a result, we now have a proposal for a Protocol in part, and a Recommendation in part.

Throughout the process we have all been committed to getting the most usable, workable document, and I believe that we achieved that. It is rooted firmly in the principle of prevention and gives a clear practical lead to governments throughout the world.

There is no doubt that occupational accidents and diseases are seriously under-reported throughout the world. In both the industrialized and the developing countries the recording of accidents and illnesses caused through work reflects only a small percentage of the true scale of the problem.

As a result of this under-reporting, those who suffer from occupational illnesses and diseases had no recognition at all of their illnesses, or of the fact that their illness was a result of their work.

This Protocol will address both these issues. Not only will it help ensure that record-keeping is improved and made consistent, but it will allow the information obtained to be used to help prevent further accidents and diseases, and at the same time, give some recognition to those who have suffered as a result of work.

The Protocol, over time, will begin to address the human tragedy which leads to almost 2 million deaths, 250 million accidents and 160 million diseases every single year. At the same time, it should help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the workforce and reduce dependency on the state of those made unable to work through accidents or illnesses caused by work.

The Workers’ group hopes that when you go back to your countries you will seek the early adoption of Convention No. 155 and of the Protocol. However good the contents are, and we believe that the contents are good, it will have no effect unless countries use it.

The effects of the Protocol and Recommendation will not be seen for many years. However, they will be seen. Accordingly, on behalf of the Workers’ group, I am pleased to be able to strongly support this proposal, which was supported unanimously on Monday at the Committee, and we urge you to vote in favour of both the Protocol and the Recommendation tomorrow.

Mr. SCHLETTWEIN (Government delegate, Namibia;  Chairperson of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases) — First of all, it is indeed a privilege for me, and my country, to have been afforded the chance to address this august house and to chair the Conference Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases.

After the excellent report submitted by our Reporter, and the contributions from my Vice-Chairpersons, the task left for me is a very easy one.

I have to say thank you to the key actors but, before I do that, allow me to very briefly share some thoughts with you.

The Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases completed the three tasks included in the agenda item, namely the drafting of the proposed texts for a Protocol to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), a Recommendation concerning a new list of occupational diseases and a new mechanism for updating the list.

The Protocol provides basic principles for the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases which support the strengthening of national and enterprises-level action for the collection and analysis of data on accidents and diseases. These data are essential for developing effective national policies and programmes, and the new instrument will contribute greatly to the improvement of safety and health at work.

May I add at this point that the main aim is surely not only to collect statistics, but to make the place of work safer and prevent occupational diseases and accidents.

Another key achievement concerns the list of occupational diseases. While an ILO list of occupational diseases is available in the form of Schedule I of the Employment Injury Benefits Convention, 1964 (No. 121) [Schedule I amended in 1980], this list has not been revised the last 22 years. This is a clear indication of a need to revise the mechanism to amend these important lists.

The Committee produced a new list of occupational diseases as an annex to the proposed Recommendation, together with a new mechanism for updating the list through experts meeting of which will enable the list to be updated more frequently, reflecting the developments in the member States and new scientific knowledge. The new list of occupational diseases will stimulate the national review process and dialogue on the identification and prevention of occupational diseases, and is a great help for reviewing national lists. The new mechanism could be a model, in my opinion, for other subject areas of the ILO which require flexible reviewing and updating mechanisms. It also introduces an element of relevance to lists that need updating frequently.

Let us return to the Committee. The Committee, through the atmosphere of the group and its spokespersons, had the ability to always seek a compromise, and has always committed itself to consensus building. The arguments we listened to were clear and all the delegates on sides — the Workers, Employers and Governments — had not only the ability to speak well, but also to listen well. We managed to avoid a situation where only positions were stated. We added to this by proposing solutions to bridge the differences that existed. This created a very cordial atmosphere in the Committee and the outcome is a consensus document.

When the Committee concluded its work, I left with the impression that we indeed had reached an agreement on all the issues through good deliberations, in an atmosphere that furthered consensus and committed us to bridging our differences.

It is my hope that this atmosphere will spill over into the whole house and that, if we vote tomorrow on the acceptance of both the Protocol and the Recommendation, we will in fact reach consensus.

Before I conclude — I see the clock is almost at one — I pay tribute to both the Vice-Chairpersons, the spokesperson for the Employers, Mr. Frank Cunneen, and the spokesperson for the Workers, Mr. Hugh Robertson, for their assistance in achieving consensus decisions in the Committee. I would also like to say thanks to the Office under the leadership of Dr. Takala for the professional support they gave me as the Chair. I have to pay tribute to the Legal Adviser who helped us to negotiate some sticky patches on legal issues and I want to pay tribute to all the delegates of my Committee. It was an enjoyable experience for me and, in fact, we even had fun in the meeting.

To put it in ILO jargon, the whole house may wish to consider voting “yes” for the Protocol, Recommendation and list of occupational diseases.

Mr. LALL (Union Minister for Labour and Employment, India) — Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak on the subject of the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases in the plenary, where a Protocol on the above subject has been taken up for adoption. We welcome this initiative not only because we consider it very important to provide occupational safety and health facilities to all our workers but also because India feels that life is more valuable than any property in the universe. Every accident on the globe undermines the concept of safety and health. We consider, however, that the protection of personal safety is of prime importance.

We were informed that, according to ILO estimates, a total of 2 million people worldwide die every year owing to occupational accidents and diseases at the workplace. The figure is very high, and we welcome every attempt to bring it down. We also welcome the need to systemize notification procedures and the collection of statistics, etc., because there is a universal feeling that these figures are under-reported everywhere. We have a long history of legislation covering occupational safety and health practices in our country. The Constitution of India contains specific provisions that apply to this field. The Directorate-General of Mines Safety (DGMS) and the Directorate-General of Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) are the two field organizations of the Ministry of Labour which are striving to achieve the above principles enshrined in our Constitution.

This year the Directorate-General of Mines Safety in India has celebrated its centenary of glorious service to the toiling mineworkers. The organization has a vast field machinery which has stood the test of time. The average accident rate per 1,000 persons in coal mines has come down from 0.61 in the decade 1951-61 to 0.27 in the last decade. The organization had also carried out 9,501 inspections and 11,015 inquiries in 2000.

Similarly, the DGFASLI functions as a technical arm of the Ministry with regard to matters of safety, health and welfare of workers in factories and ports. It assists the Union Government in formulating and reviewing policy and legislation on occupational safety and health matters in factories and ports. The organization also provides training for Labour Department officials in the central and state Governments. In the last five years, over 7,000 inspections of oil tankers and other ships were carried out. The number of reported accidents has also declined in the last five years.

The Government of India has also instituted the National Safety Awards. These are presented by the Honourable Vice-President of India to workers with an outstanding safety record.

We have participated in the discussions of the Committee concerned with this issue, having provided our views in reply to the questionnaire circulated by the ILO. While we agreed with most of the items in the draft Protocol circulated for discussion, we also indicated the difficulty we had in accepting certain formulations. The spirit of the Protocol is highly laudable. However, acceptance of some of the formulations would depend on the Protocol being flexible, practical and able to be implemented.

The situation regarding the incidence of occupational accidents and diseases varies from country to country. Collecting information on them is relatively easy in developed and smaller countries. India is a federal democracy where the state Governments also act as implementing agencies for recording and notifying occupational accidents and diseases. Collecting details at the state level and then analysing, notifying and publishing them centrally is a time-consuming exercise.

In view of the above, we suggested during the discussions, through an amendment, that statistics should be collected, analysed and published after giving the national Government adequate time for collecting qualitative data. This amendment was not accepted in the adopted Protocol, which reiterates the original intention of asking the national Government to collect and analyse all the details and publish them annually.

We are aware that for a Protocol, which is a legally binding instrument for the national Government, flexibility is an essential ingredient to facilitate ratification. I would therefore urge you to ensure that such important initiatives have flexibility built into them to facilitate implementation by the national Government.

I would end by reassuring this august assembly that India gives matters concerning industrial and occupational safety and health the utmost importance, and by making the request that highly scientific and ultra-modern technology should be developed on an international level to counter the fatal accidents in mines. We have also decided to give this subject the highest priority in our national five-year plans.

Original French: Mr. VEUVE (Government adviser and substitute delegate, Switzerland) — Switzerland is very pleased about the fruitful outcome of the work of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases and informs you that it intends adopting the report submitted to us today, thereby supporting the consensus reached within the Committee. When it comes to the record vote tomorrow, the Swiss Government will vote in favour of the instruments drawn up at this 90th Session of the International Labour Conference. However, we feel bound to express a number of reservations as to a future ratification of these instruments by Switzerland because our national legislation in this area is currently under review. Any ratification will have to be looked at in the context of changes to our current laws. If necessary, I will explain my vote tomorrow.

Original Spanish: Ms. PEDRO GARCIA (Workers’ delegate, Angola) — After two weeks’ very hard work, the Worker members of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases came to the conclusion that instruments and debates are of great importance to workers since they concern documents which will regulate working conditions in the world of work.

I therefore wish to recommend that tomorrow the Conference adopt the Protocol and Recommendation which have already been adopted by the Committee.

In conclusion, I urge governments and employers to put into practice in their countries the fundamental principles contained in the Protocol and Recommendation, otherwise everything will remain a dead letter.

Mr. TAYLOR (Employers’ adviser, United States) — The United States Employers’ objective at this session of the International Labour Conference was to develop a tool that would improve occupational health and accident systems from the standpoint of the notification, reporting and recognition of occupational accidents and diseases to further the cause of workers, employers and governments for the protection of all.

We are encouraged by the agreement of all parties to apply the principal recognition of local laws and practices. This will allow flexibility and practical application of occupational safety and health standards, which are accepted in some countries and not in others.

The Protocol will have limited international value because only 37 countries have ratified Convention No. 155 and only 13 of the 37 voted for the Protocol in our meetings. We feel this reflects a weak base for the choice of a Protocol, however, we strongly agree with many of the initiatives included in the Protocol and feel the importance of occupational safety and health could have been better advanced had a Recommendation been adopted by the Committee.

We are disappointed, however, in the choice of a Protocol instead of a Recommendation. We are saddled with an instrument that has very little potential of being ratified by any additional countries. We are further disappointed that the Workers’ and Government groups failed to recognize the fundamental responsibility of the worker to be an active participant in safety and health processes. Their failure to recognize the responsibility of workers to inform their employers of the occurrence of an accident, is off target of the spirit of a tripartite approach to creating a safe work environment. This partnership we feel is essential to build a foundation for occupational safety and health issues.

Addressing the list of occupational diseases from the prior Convention, we feel that the recommendation of the list was a veiled attempt to get a list of diseases recognized for compensation purposes and this created some problems for many countries. This is a list that was developed without participation of the Employers’ group, a list that was marred with duplication and the inclusion of known and unknown diseases. The list was approved by vote and not by consensus.

The recommendation to refer the list to a tripartite committee of experts is, in our view, a very good idea. We do feel however, that the results of the committee of experts should be returned to the International Labour Conference as the highest legislative body. We also feel that the compensation issue should have been a separate item and clearly discussed as an independent subject.

We would like to stress that we feel the cause of occupational safety and health has clearly been advanced through the work of the Committee. This has been a very satisfying and rewarding experience and has truly made a difference in the workplace.

Ms. MALETE (Workers’ adviser and substitute delegate, South Africa) — I would like to take this opportunity to commend the leaders of this Committee, who took up the difficult task, diligently and self-sacrificing, even though they came from different portfolios or walks of life.

In support of the adoption of the report tabled before you, allow me to point out the following; that many work-related fatalities and diseases had not been recognized as such in the past, not even recorded, for example some communicable diseases or chronic diseases. Workers were, and are still, exposed to those diseases through some agents in workplaces, which of course, have taken years to be diagnosed, for example, in the issue of asbestosis. The instrument therefore, put before you, will surely improve the preventative measures of such mishaps and thus maintain a safe and healthy environment in the workplace.

It is a pity that when a worker dies, he or she becomes a statistic and can be replaced within a wink of an eye. The shaping of this text has been like going through a difficult labour. I can assure you that workers worldwide will not forget this experience of pain endured during these two periods, and thus work hard to educate their members in the implementation of the proposed Protocol. Countries here will agree with me that we are all tired of counting fatalities, or deaths in millions, which strip countries of human resources and funds. I therefore ask you to support the adoption of the Protocol and Recommendation tomorrow.

Original Arabic: Mr. AL SYOUFI (Government delegate, Syrian Arab Republic) — You are aware I am sure that the question of safety at work and occupational accidents and diseases is a very sensitive matter in the modern world. Safeguarding the health of our labour force, which is the biggest and most precious asset of any society, is of the utmost importance, and indeed is in the interest of governments, employers and employees alike. Prevention is a must, and where there are good preventive arrangements workers feel safer and hence are more confident and more productive, since they do not live in fear of accidents, which enhances the productivity of enterprises.

It goes without saying that this is obviously in the interest of an employer because it is to his benefit in terms of profits, and that in turn enhances the GDP of the country and improves the national balance of payments situation. That is why I would like to reassure Employers and call upon them to support us so that we can all together adopt this Protocol.

At the outset, my Government had a number of reservations with regard to the Protocol, but thanks to the constructive dialogue in which we were all engaged, my Government, the Syrian Government, is now fully in favour and fully backs the Protocol and the Recommendation on the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases. We believe that this work and these documents will have a very positive impact on workers and on economies throughout the world, so we hope that employers and governments from all countries will support this Protocol. The developing countries need the support of the international community when it comes to improving the safety and health of workers. I believe that the ILO is in the forefront of the organizations that can help developing countries in this area.

Finally, you may rest assured that the laws required to enable this Protocol and Recommendation are already in force in my country.

I would once again like to thank the Committee for its work.

Mr. MAHADEVEN (Workers’ adviser, India) — Business is business, some say; they do not want anybody to interfere in their business, and mind their own business. However, occupational safety, occupational diseases, accidents, taking care of them, prevention, as well as compensation, is everybody’s business. No single party can fence out the other parties from this common business. It is the business of all social partners in the tripartite forum. This has been evidently demonstrated in our Committee; where we have democratically accepted adoption, to recommend this Protocol of a binding nature, as well as the Recommendations on the revised list of occupational diseases and accidents.

Now it is everybody’s business to adopt, ratify and implement the contents of the Protocol and Recommendation in their respective countries. Accident-free and disease-free work is not only a fundamental right of the workers, but is also the basic responsibility of the employers and that of the governments.

This improves the quality of work, productivity and the profits of enterprises. Our Committee’s Chairperson and the Vice-Chairpersons, with their excellent past records and expertise, ably assisted by the secretariat and the professionals in the Office, besides the ILO staff have all contributed to the improvement of the document, and the conclusions of this historic Protocol and Recommendation, in pursuance of Convention No. 155. This should not be relegated to the back burner any more. A willing and voluntary approach is essential to formulate the occupational safety and management system in every unit and nation.

Prevention of occupational diseases and occupational accidents, including commuting accidents, no more remain a one-sided bargaining agenda. It is our practice, prescribed as a working agenda at the unit level, industry level and national level for implementation, periodic analysis and reporting to ILO so as to minimize, if not totally eliminate, occupational accidents and diseases.

Let us have no more Bhopals, no more Chernobyls; we are for profit for the people, but not profit for the people by allowing accidents and diseases.

Our conclusions are based on democratic norms. I do not think it necessary at this stage to raise the differences that existed earlier. I am of the considered view that at this stage we should go ahead, resolutely, determinedly, and with one objective — to reach the goal of an accident-less, disease-less working environment. Only a few governments, 13 or so, voted otherwise on this Protocol, and everybody else supported it.

I therefore strongly propose the adoption of the Protocol and Recommendation on occupational accidents and diseases.

Original Spanish: Mr. VERDUGO PEÑA (Workers’ delegate, Chile) — On behalf of the workers of Latin America, we would like to express our opinion on the very important instrument we are about to adopt today.

At present, in Latin America, there are disparities in the depth with which this subject matter has been treated, a subject which is so important to the world of work.  These disparities are perhaps due to different levels of development and different economic policies carried out by the governments of our continent. So we feel it is pertinent, after this far-reaching debate that we should all agree that the key element in the world of work is prevention.

Prevention requires resources. We have to train, educate and invest in the world of work, so that workers come to be recognized as key players in the process, who are wedded to their firm and their country, so that the occupational accidents and diseases shown in the statistics can be reduced.

To this end, we are very grateful that the Committee has linked this Protocol and Recommendation to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155). We feel it is vital that the new standards for reporting and notifying occupational accidents should be precise, well-defined and transparent so as to avoid any ambiguity. To us the key is that statistics should be a means and not an end. The purpose is to avoid occupational accidents and diseases and to take steps to prevent dramatic incidents in many of our countries. We also consider that it is noteworthy that concepts of importance to many of our societies have been introduced such as commuting accidents and dangerous occurrences, which widen the coverage of occupational accidents and diseases which with regard to the list, we consider that it is important that, despite our differences, the list of occupational diseases has been updated and that a meeting of experts will regularly review, revise and pass it, in the light of the latest scientific and technological advances which have drastically changed the forms and methods of production and the relationship between workers and employers, such that constant tripartite dialogue is necessary.

Secondly, we feel that one of the challenges facing all our countries is to ensure that a wide variety of actors with different backgrounds and responsibilities should be able to hold a dialogue and understand the challenges with which our countries have to contend as they engage in a broad integration process that will alter our way of life.

Governments, workers and employers must have the ability and skills needed to seek agreements transcending the differences that we will always have. For that reason, a modern efficient and highly competitive forum must look after our safety in a changing world, which is constantly torn between flexibility and stability. For workers, it is of key importance that their rights should be known and respected.

Looking after the health of workers and protecting them against accidents is the best incentive one can offer to make them feel committed to their firm and recognized as major actors in the development of their country. That is why we, as workers, call on this gathering tomorrow to adopt both the Recommendation and the Protocol, because this will redound to the benefit of thousands and thousands of workers in Latin America.

Original French: Mr. JURCA (Workers’ delegate, Romania) — After 12 long and exhausting meetings, plus more than difficult drafting work, the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases has submitted to you two extremely important documents. These two drafts are of standard-setting importance, and act as guidelines, about which no more needs to be said.

What I would say is that clear standards are better than arbitrary ones, and good examples have to be followed, even if they are less numerous to begin with. But when the life, health and physical integrity of workers is at stake, no effort is too great.

Therefore, I invite you, wholeheartedly, to support and to vote for the two documents. I hope that God will guide you in taking the right decision.

I cannot conclude without addressing my congratulations to the members of the Committee and, above all, to all those who, adopted flexible positions — and this was, above all, the case of the Chairperson, the Worker and Employer Vice-Chairpersons and the Government representative — for having given us considerable hope and a consensus.

The time for speeches is finished. The time has come for action. Let us, therefore, act.

Ms. SAAB (Government delegate, Lebanon) — Allow me, Mr. Chairperson, to make the following comments on the proposed Recommendation. Would the new Recommendation stand as an independent entity, is it supplementing Convention No. 155 and the designated Protocol, or is it applied in conjunction with these two instruments because this is not mentioned in the Preamble? As we know, Recommendations provide guidelines for national policy on the subjects concerned. I would therefore like to know whether the proposed Recommendation entails any obligations on member States ratifying Convention No. 155 or the Protocol to commit to the provisions of the Recommendation, or may States have independent policies in addition to what the Recommendation prescribes? In our view the Recommendation could never be binding.

Furthermore, in our view, amendments to the list of occupational diseases should take into consideration, where practicable, the situation in member States if it is to be considered binding upon them in every aspect.

Original Spanish: Mr. DELGADO (Government delegate, Uruguay, speaking on behalf of MERCOSUR) — On behalf of the MERCOSUR countries, I would like to congratulate the ILO for having suggested that this session of the Conference address such an important issue as the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases. Also, we would like to congratulate the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases for its work and, at the same time, acknowledge the efforts being made by the ILO’s SafeWork Programme to give impetus to questions concerning occupational safety and health.

I think it is very important that we have effective procedures for the recording and notification of accidents, not only because of their statistical importance, but also as a support for work on accident prevention. It is difficult to assess the effects of accident prevention strategies, but we are sure that these measures will reduce the number of accidents.

In this respect, we would like to inform you that the MERCOSUR countries recently drew up a document on a tripartite basis, with common guidelines on safety and health in their countries. The document stresses the need to harmonize procedures for the recording and registration of accidents.

For this reason, the MERCOSUR countries recommend a favourable vote for this Protocol and Recommendation.

Original French: The PRESIDENT — As there are no more requests from the floor to speak, we shall proceed with the adoption of the report.

If there is no objection, may I take it that the report, paragraphs 1-627 is adopted?

(The report — paragraphs 1-627 — is adopted.)

Proposed Protocol to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981: Adoption

We shall now proceed to the adoption of the proposed Protocol to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981. May I take it that the proposed Protocol as a whole is adopted?

(The Protocol is adopted as a whole.)

Proposed Recommendation concerning the list of occupational diseases and the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases: Adoption

We shall now proceed to the adoption of the proposed Recommendation concerning the list of occupational diseases and the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases.

May I take it that the proposed Recommendation as a whole, including the list of occupational diseases contained in the Annex, is adopted?

(The Recommendation as a whole is adopted, including the list contained in the Annex.)

In accordance with paragraph 7 of article 40 of the Standing Orders of the Conference, the provisions of the Protocol to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981, and the Recommendation concerning the list of occupational diseases and the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases will be submitted to the Conference Drafting Committee for the preparation of the final texts.

We have now concluded the consideration of the report of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases, as well as the proposed Protocol and the proposed Recommendation submitted to us by the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases.

I would like to congratulate the Chairperson, the Vice-Chairpersons and the Reporter of the Committee on Occupational Accidents and Diseases, and the members of the Committee, for the excellent work they have done. I would also like to congratulate the staff of the secretariat for their contribution to this excellent work.

Two record votes will be held tomorrow in the plenary on the Protocol relating to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), and the Recommendation concerning the list of occupational diseases and the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases

 Last updated by HK on 20 June 2002.