ILO says jobs in the green economy should be safe and healthy

A new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) launched for World Day for Safety and Health at Work says the greening of the economy should be accompanied by the proper integration of workplace safety and health measures.

News | 24 April 2012

The report, entitled “Promoting safety and health in a green economy,” says that while promoting a greener economy “does not make jobs decent, healthy and safe by default” it “provides an opportunity to make all jobs healthier and safer, while benefiting the environment and society, provided occupational risks are identified and managed at the onset”.

The report adds that the concept of green jobs refers to jobs protecting biodiversity and occupations that play a central role in “greening” industries across the economy, from mining and agriculture to industry and services such as transport.

It notes that the greening of traditional sectors which will continue to provide the bulk of all employment and harbour most occupational safety and health risks can provide a major opportunity to make them safer and healthier, as well as energy efficient and environmentally sustainable, provided the right measures are taken.

This would make it possible to reinforce and expand efforts to tackle a range of major health hazards from chemicals and pesticides to phasing out of asbestos and high accident rates in sectors like mining, agriculture, forestry and construction, the ILO says.

The report looks at different “green industries” from an occupational safety and health (OSH) perspective, and shows that while green jobs improve the environment, revitalize the economy and create new employment opportunities, they may also present a number of known and unknown risks for workers. For example, the manufacture and installation of wind mills requires new specific skills that may entail new occupational hazards, while risks related to their installation and maintenance are similar to those prevalent in construction. Consistent with its mandate, the ILO has always called for new jobs generated in the green sector to be decent jobs; hence, the need to address emerging and traditional risks in the process of greening the economy.

The report also says that the transition towards energy-efficient construction and sustainable refurbishment requires skills development and training far beyond those for traditional buildings. Therefore, capacity building for employers, designers, contractors, managers and workers is fundamental to equip them with the new skills and risk prevention methods required to deal with these challenges.

The report also looks at other sectors like waste management, where many workers belong to the informal economy. This often means it endangers the health of workers and communities and pollutes rather than protects the environment: “For waste picking to become a green and decent job, waste pickers need to be able to organize and work in an improved environment, and children should not be allowed on disposal sites”. To address this situation, a number of basic and low-cost measures could be put in place, such as better machinery and equipment, improved disposals layout, protective equipment, washing facilities and sanitation, basic safety and health measures and training, especially in handling hazardous waste. All these measures would contribute to improved working conditions and to the quality of life of waste pickers and their families.

According to the ILO report, “a true green job must integrate safety and health into design, procurement, operations, maintenance sourcing, use and recycling”. OSH mechanisms need to integrate the greening process into their policies and programmes of action. Policy changes are necessary to support approaches such as “prevention through design” in creating green jobs. Social dialogue among representatives of government, workers and employers is central to the prevention and management of occupational hazards and risks.

“Moving towards a green economy implies setting higher standards for environmental protection while, at the same time, incorporating workers' safety and health as an integral part of the strategy. The greening of the economy serves as an ideal platform for comprehensive methods to protect the workers, the general environment and the surrounding communities”, said Seiji Machida, head of the ILO’s Programme on Safety and Health at Work and the Environment (Safework).

“Only then will we be contributing to an environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive outcome, only then, will we achieve safe, healthy and decent work in a green economy,” he added.

For more information, please contact the ILO Department of Communication and Public Information on +4122/799-7912, communication@ilo.org