Opening Remarks at World Day for Safety and Health at Work & the OSH Situation in the Thai Agricultural Sector

by Mr Yasuyuki Nodera, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 25 April 2002

Deputy Permanent-Secretary of the Ministry of Labour Khun Akrapol Vanaputi,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Firstly, I would like to warmly welcome you to today’s consultation. I would firstly like to use this opportunity to express our sincere thanks to the Asian Workers Institute For Occupational Health, Safety and Environment for kindly hosting today’s event. We greatly appreciate your input and efforts in the drive for safe and healthy workplaces.

Today’s event closely coincides with World Day for Safety and Health at Work, which provides the ILO’s tripartite focus to the annual Workers’ Memorial Day that is observed in almost 100 countries on Monday, 28 April.

The ILO estimates work-related accidents and illnesses lead to around 2 million fatalities per year. While this is disturbing in itself, it is likely that it vastly underplays the extent of the situation. Many deaths and injuries aren’t reported, while countries with the highest accident and illness rates are unlikely to be those with the best-developed inspecting and reporting structures.

The poorest, least protected, least informed and least trained workers face the highest risks in terms of work-related accidents and illnesses. The most vulnerable – women, children, people with disabilities, migrant workers and ethnic minorities – are sadly more prone to become victims. Victims and their families face extreme poverty, in addition to the physical and psychological consequences. Subsequently, the promotion of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) has a direct link with efforts to prevent and reduce poverty.

The fact is that on-the-job accidents don’t just ‘happen’ – they are caused. For example, cancer – which accounts for a third of all work-related deaths – is caused by asbestos, other carcinogenic dusts and chemicals, and ionizing radiation. Causes can be addressed, and the suffering can be prevented. Fortunately, in a growing number of workplaces, workers, employers, and Governments are demonstrating through cooperation and dialogue that it is possible to create safer, healthier workplaces – and, at the same time, to improve productivity and bottom-line results.

The ILO estimates that 4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is lost due to accidents and work-related diseases. This amounts to a whopping US$ 1.2 trillion based on 2001, showing that investment decisions made upon safety ‘shortcuts’ represent a false economy. There is no evidence that economies with lower standards are more competitive, on the contrary, ILO research suggests that the opposite is the case.

Worker participation is also essential in order to implement solutions at an enterprise level effectively. Even the best-prepared guidelines will have little impact unless the workers themselves are able to express themselves on issues and make proposals based upon their own experiences in the workplace.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s event highlights the power of the tripartite structure, and through the attendance of three ministries of the Royal Thai Government – Labour, Agriculture and Cooperatives and Public Health – represents a positive spirit of collaboration on the issue of improving the OSH situation in Thailand’s agricultural sector. Our sincere thanks for your cooperation and input.

In terms of the situation, the agriculture sector has been identified as one of three most hazardous sectors, according to the ILO report Safety in Numbers, both in industrialized and developing countries. Up to 170,000 agricultural workers are killed each year, so they run at least twice the risk of dying on the job than in other sectors. These rates have remained consistently high over the last decade, while in most other sectors they have decreased. Millions are seriously injured in workplace accidents with machinery or are poisoned by pesticides and other agrochemicals. In fact, due to widespread under-reporting of deaths, injuries and occupational diseases in agriculture, the sector is probably even more dangerous than official figures suggest.

While there is still much to be done in terms of improving the situation in workplaces throughout the region, it is encouraging to see Governments, employers and workers taking the initiative in making workplaces safer. , for example, has been utilizing the ILO’s unique tripartite structure effectively through its active participation in the ILO’s global SafeWork Program. In 2002, launched its own National SafeWork Program (5-Year Master Plan in Occupational Safety and Health). The Program clearly identifies priority action areas of in , goals in each action area, and practical measures to achieve the goals. In the framework of the Program, action-oriented training workshops directly delivered to workers and employers have been conducted in various provinces to assist small enterprises, home workplaces and farmers in improving .

Over the coming weeks there will be a host of additional important activities in the area of at Work, as officially marks its annual National Safety Week during . The ILO looks forward to supporting these activities.

The ILO’s SafeWork program is well placed to influence the global agenda since the ILO’s tripartite structure finds the world’s workers, employers and Governments on an equal footing.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The ILO believes that action on must be local, but the framework must be global. This is a moral and practical necessity. Moral, because we cannot place a lower value on workers’ lives in some parts of the world than others, and practical because in a global economy, it is now largely accepted that companies that pay sufficient heed to the issue can expect to enjoy increased competitiveness.

World Day for Safety and Health at Work has a particular resonance in this year. Almost ten years ago, on 10 May, 1993, 188 workers were killed and 469 seriously injured in a fire at the Kader Toy Factory on the outskirts of Bangkok – Thailand’s worst ever factory fire.

Every victim or victim’s family will have its own tragic tale to tell, and our thoughts and sympathy should be with them at this time. World Day for Safety and Health at Work must serve as a wake-up call. We must highlight the fact that many workplace accidents are entirely preventable through the use of tried and tested practices and adherence to international standards.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The ILO firmly believes that without safe work, there is no decent work. Fortunately, the business case for adopting good practices has served to improve the situation in and the Pacific and elsewhere, however, we should guard against complacency. The ILO, in its efforts to promote decent work, joins Government, employers and workers in renewing the commitment to the development of solutions aimed at improving the situation in workplaces throughout the region. Safety in Numbers aptly illustrates how many workers’ lives depend on it.

May I conclude my remarks by wishing you all a fruitful and productive meeting, while offering our thanks for your active interest.