Opening Remarks to the ILO/Japan Asian-Pacific Regional Seminar on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems

by Mr Rueben Dudley, Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Kuala Lumpur | 22 May 2001

Yang Berhormat Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad, Timbalan Menteri Sumber Manusia (Hon. Dr Abd. Latif Ahmad, Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Government of Malaysia);
Mr Motoshige Sasaki, representing the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Government of Japan;
Distinguished Guests, Participants, Resource Persons, ILO Colleagues and Friends,

On behalf of the ILO Office for the Asia Pacific Region, I am very pleased to greet and extend a warm welcome to you all, as we embark on three days of ground-breaking work on the management of occupational safety and health. Let me specially welcome YB Dr Abd Latif Ahmad for his presence and kindly agreeing to declare open this meeting, and thank the Government of Malaysia for the close cooperation and support extended by the Ministry of Human Resources, in organizing this Regional Seminar. I would also like to convey greetings from the ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Mr Yasuyuki Nodera. This meeting and the issues that will be covered are of particular interest to him, and he regrets that an urgent mission commitment with the ILO Director-General has precluded his earlier plans to be here in person. I must in particular acknowledge the financial support provided by the Government of Japan to assist this Regional Seminar and also extended to the field of occupational safety and health in general. Such support, indeed, has significant benefits, as I am sure we all do appreciate.

This Seminar addresses issues that are at the very heart of the ILO’s mandate. Our Director-General, Juan Somavia, sums up our organization’s primary goal very succinctly – Decent Work, in conditions of freedom, security, equity and human dignity. Unsafe work is not Decent Work, it is a violation of those principles. And yet, unsafe work is often seen all around, a stain on the world of work.

The ILO programme on Safe Work targets preventive policies and programmes such as Safety and Health Management Systems, workers’ health protection, promoting relevant ILO standards, extending the protective coverage to all workers, and demonstrating that safety pays. Promoting safety and health at the workplace is a priority for ILO action in the Asia Pacific Region. A UNDP-assisted capacity building project with the Government of Malaysia, improving chemical safety in China, creating a better working environment in small enterprises with employers in Mongolia and the Philippines, safety in construction through the trade unions in Viet Nam, and the Centre for Improving Working Conditions in Pakistan are a few concrete examples of ILO collaboration in this field.

Safe work is not merely the absence of injury, disease or death due to occupation causes. It is more the well-being of all working women and men to engage in and contribute to productive work in a safe and healthy environment. We live in a world in which every year, work related diseases and accidents lead to an ILO-estimated more than one million deaths. This is almost double the number caused by war. This is higher than the number due to malaria. Many of those work-related deaths could easily have been prevented. And yet, this terrible toll receives little publicity. We need to draw the attention of policy-makers, industrialists, managers and workers’ leaders towards how they can cooperate to protect and promote the health and safety of all working people.

Each lost life, each injury, each case of chronic disease causes untold pain and suffering for individual workers and their families and friends. These kinds of costs can’t be easily measured. But they can be described –in one word- "unacceptable". There are other costs that we can measure. Studies on the costs that enterprises bear as a result of unsafe work practices or environments, or disregarding good practices, show that bill is enormous. There are enormous costs – in terms of lost work time, production, productivity, efficiency, motivation and of knowledge, skills and wisdom.

The strategic approaches that are routinely applied to business planning to balance sheets, to quality control to capital expenditure – are often missing from occupational safety and health planning. Occupational safety and health measures deal with any enterprise’s most precious asset – its people. Too often, these measures are ad hoc. Too often, they are inadequate. Too often, they are barely there.

This Seminar will help us bring those strategic approaches closer. It will focus on the ILO’s new Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems. These Guidelines have been developed together with our tripartite partners – governments, employers and workers. A meeting of experts held in Geneva last month considered and refined these Guidelines.

The Guidelines bring together ILO values and instruments that have a bearing on the protection of the safety and health of workers. They are designed to be of use to enterprises of all shapes and sizes – from large corporations, to small and medium sized enterprises. They are also designed to be of use to national institutions and organizations – we are all aware of the importance of making OSH management systems part of national OSH policies. But, while the onus to make it a reality at industry or enterprise lies with the employer; the initiative to ensure that its practices are observed lies with the worker; the government is responsible to promote its policy dimension to be widely accepted and implemented; and together they all must make it work since each ahs a vital stake in its success.

The Guidelines contain five keys elements – policy – organizing – planning and implementation – evaluation – and action for improvement.

These involve consultation, training, assuming leadership and responsibility roles, disseminating information, monitoring and taking necessary remedial actions. The tripartite partners have a collective and individual task in each of these which will be elaborated and discussed during this meeting.

The interest and support that this Seminar has generated offers strong evidence of the importance with which all of us view the work in this field. The next three days will help us take the first steps towards our shared goal – making effective occupational safety and health measures and management systems part of the working lives of all the people of our region. We have a great deal to do. We see the tragedy of the lack of these systems all too often. The ease with which many of these could have been avoided makes them seem all the worse. We owe it to those who have lost their health – who have lost their lives – to do all that we can to ensure that this does not happen again. We need to maintain and strengthen our commitment to achieving what we must – a working environment that is safe, that is healthy, not just for a luck few – but for all.

Once again, on the ILO’s behalf, let me wish you well with your deliberations and your work and look forward to viewing the results – and to working together with you to achieve the goals that are of mutual concern to us.

I thank you.