International labour standards are legal instruments drawn up by the ILO's constituents (governments, employers and workers) and setting out basic principles and rights at work. They are either conventions, which are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member states, or recommendations, which serve as non-binding guidelines. ILO standards on occupational safety and health provide essential tools for governments, employers, and workers to establish sound prevention, reporting and inspection practices and to provide for maximum safety at work. The ILO has adopted more than 40 standards specifically dealing with occupational safety and health. Nearly half of ILO instruments deal directly or indirectly with occupational safety and health issues.
Codes of Practice set out practical guidelines for public authorities, employers, workers, enterprises, and specialized occupational safety and health protection bodies (such as enterprise safety committees). They are not legally binding instruments and are not intended to replace the provisions of national laws or regulations, or accepted standards. Codes of Practice provide guidance on safety and health at work in certain economic sectors (e.g. construction, opencast mines, coal mines, iron and steel industries, non-ferrous metals industries, agriculture, shipbuilding and ship repairing, forestry), on protecting workers against certain hazards (e.g. radiation, lasers, visual display units, chemicals, asbestos, airborne substances), and on certain safety and health measures (e.g. occupational safety and health management systems; ethical guidelines for workers' health surveillance; recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases; protection of workers' personal data; safety, health and working conditions in the transfer of technology to developing countries).
These guidelines call for coherent policies to protect workers from occupational hazards and risks while improving productivity. They present practical approaches and tools for establishing, implementing and improving occupational safety and health management systems, with the aim of reducing work-related injuries, ill health, diseases, incidents and deaths.
The purpose of these guidelines is to assist all those who have responsibilities to design, establish, implement and manage workers' health surveillance schemes that will facilitate preventive action towards ensuring a healthy and safe working environment for all.