Opening remarks to the 2nd China International Forum on Work Safety and China International Occupational Safety and Health Exhibition

by Ms Christine Evans-Klock, Director, ILO Subregional Office for East Asia

Statement | Beijing, China | 02 September 2004

Mr. Hua Jianmin, State Counselor,
Mr. Wang Xiangzheng, Administrator, the State Administration for Work Safety,
Distinguished guests and participants,

On behalf of Mr. Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization, I am honoured to welcome you to the 2nd China International Forum on Work Safety and to the China International Occupational Safety and Health Exhibition. The ILO would like to congratulate the State Administration of Work Safety for the successful organization of this important event.

The protection of workers against sickness, disease and injury related to their work environment, has been a central issue for the ILO since its inception in 1919. Most recently, in referring to the Decent Work Agenda, Director-General Juan Somavia declared that “Decent Work must be Safe Work, and we are a long way from achieving that goal.”

There is mounting concern that globalization may increase safety and health risks at the workplace. The acceleration and liberalization of world trade and the spread of new production technologies, are generating new types of work organization and bringing new patterns of exposure to the risks of occupational accidents and disease.

A “Fair and equitable globalization”, as called for by the World Commission on Globalization convened by the ILO, does not accept that only some parts of the world benefit from more opportunities and new and better workplaces while other parts of the world face only higher risk of negative consequences. But today, many developing countries in the globalizing economy are experiencing an increase in occupational accidents and diseases as a result of rapid industrialization.

The ILO estimates that around the world some 2 million people die each year from work-related injuries and diseases. While annual rates of such injuries and diseases are declining slowly in most industrialized countries, they are on the increase in developing countries. Globally, there are some 270 million fatal and non-fatal occupational accidents each year and some 160 million workers suffer from work-related diseases.

The poorest, the least protected, the least informed, and the least trained are the most affected. And it is women, children, disabled workers, migrant workers, workers in rural areas, workers in the informal economy and workers from ethnic minorities whose health and safety is often at risk.

The related economic costs due to compensation for injuries or sickness, lost working time, interruption of production, medical expenses and the like routinely amount to 4 per cent of annual global GDP. In 2001 this represented the enormous figure of some 1.2 billion dollars.

The social consequences and the economic costs of occupational injuries and illnesses call out urgently for a massive reinforcement of national prevention efforts to strengthen safety culture at the workplace.

To respond to the emerging safety and health needs worldwide, the ILO adopted a global strategy on occupational safety and health at the 91st Session of the International Labour Conference in 2003. The Conference concluded that building and maintaining a national preventative safety and health culture and introducing a systems approach to occupational safety and health management at the national level, were the fundamental pillars of an effective global strategy.

Calling for national programmes on occupational safety and health to rank high on national agendas, the strategy stresses the importance of strong leadership and visible commitments to high safety and health standards.

The ILO’s Occupational Safety and Health Conventions and other instruments are expected to play an increasingly important role in developing safety culture. Particularly, Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health and Convention 161 on Occupational Health Services provide sound guidance for upgrading national and enterprise level actions.

Ladies and gentlemen, in , occupational safety and health is recognized as an indispensable aspect of employment policy and strategy. The China Employment Forum, which was organized jointly by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the ILO in April of this year, endorsed the importance of the national safety and health programme to provide adequate safety and health protection for all workers. Stronger and focused international cooperation is urgently required to support ’s efforts and commitment in safety and health.

The recent developments of safety and health legislation in are very encouraging. Two major safety and health laws came into force in 2002, the Law on Work Safety and the Law on Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases. These two laws provide the fundamental pillars in occupational safety and health of . And a new regulation on Work Safety Permits was issued in 2004, which applies to hazardous work, especially in mining, construction, and the production of dangerous chemicals, fireworks, and civil explosives.

’s national standard on safety and health management systems was developed reflecting ILO Guidelines and has been widely applied. For example, enterprises are required to establish occupational safety and health management systems that define their responsibilities for safety procedures. Furthermore, ILO Convention 170 on Chemicals was ratified in 1995 and Convention 167 on Safety and Health in Construction was ratified in 2002. At present, ratification of ILO Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health is under consideration.

Tripartite cooperation mechanisms in safety and health have been strengthened in as employers and trade unions are also active in improving their safety and health programmes.

The All China Federation of Trade Unions has developed its own strategy in safety and health and actively implements it through their trade union networks. Their contribution to the development of national safety and health laws and regulations has been significant. The ACFTU’s extensive training and information dissemination activities have been indispensable for the safety and health development at the grass-root level and local workplaces throughout many provinces in .

The China Enterprise Confederation has been offering employers practical safety and health measures that can also enhance productivity and business competitiveness. CEC has been paying growing attention to small enterprises. Participatory, action-oriented safety and health training courses for small enterprises were conducted in Wenzhou and Changsha within the CEC network, using the ILO’s programme on Work Improvement in Small Enterprises, known as “WISE”,

The ILO has long collaborated with in the field of occupational safety and health. Cooperation activities have included:

- the development of national information systems for chemical safety and major hazard control,
- a safety and health review in village and township enterprises,
- training of State safety inspectors,
-improving recording and notification systems of occupational injuries and diseases,
- the formulation of the national pneumoconiosis elimination programme, and
- technical support for the ratification and implementation of key conventions in the Chemicals and Construction industries. These cooperation projects and activities have had substantial impacts on upgrading the national safety and health systems of .

In spite of the intensive efforts and visible achievements, is yet facing increasing challenges in safety and health. Practical safety and health improvement measures need to be widely adopted in high-risk workplaces. To address the emerging safety and health issues of , the ILO has been strengthening its technical cooperation programmes in three key action areas.

First, technical support is being provided for the formulation of the national occupational safety and health programme. A tripartite, inter-ministerial taskforce was formed for this purpose. The taskforce completed a comprehensive review of the safety and health situation in and drafted a national occupational safety and health profile which identified priority action areas to be addressed.

Second, the ILO is helping to strengthen safety and health enforcement and training programmes in hazardous occupations, particularly in mining and construction. The ILO has been assisting the Changsha Coal Mining Centre in producing a new practical safety and health training programme focusing on owners and workers of small-scale coal mines. Policy advice and fellowship programmes have also been provided to improve safety and health in the construction industry.

Third, it is planned to train more workers and owners of small enterprises by using ILO’s WISE training programme. Small enterprises are recognized as the engines of ’s economic development and the major source of present and future job growth. However, occupational hazards and risks are more widespread in small enterprises than in large ones, and small enterprises have limited resources and technical capacity in safety and health. Practical, easy-to-use measures like the WISE training programme need to be widely applied in the mushrooming small enterprise sector of the Chinese economy.

Visiting actual workplaces and learning from the efforts of local workers and employers to improve safety and health can be enlightening. When the joint safety and health review team visited a small metal factory in , we were impressed with its safe and productive working environment. The factory owner had studied practical safety and health improvement methods over the Internet and improved the work environment at his own initiative by using local available materials. His improvements included clearly marked transport ways,

- guards to production machines,
- comfortable workstations fitted to workers, and
- safe storage of chemicals.

An increasing number of Chinese entrepreneurs and their workers are making such day-to-day efforts towards their dream of a better place to work. They desperately need practical support and easy-to-apply information to accelerate their self-help efforts to creating safer and healthier work environments.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Forum today is an essential step to further advance occupational safety and health in . International participants will exchange information on the successful implementation of national policies and strategies. The Forum will also give us opportunity to hear about successful safety and health activities at the enterprise level. Many delegates here today have practical experience in applying advanced safety and health instruments and standards at the workplace and in forming self-sustaining safety and health management systems.

For it is important that all people at the workplace, not only specific technical units, be included in assessing their safety and health risks and proposing safer and healthier work environments.

The Forum will open a new stage in national and international collaboration in the safety and health of . The ILO is ready to join you in the commitment to help workers and employers improve safety and health. I wish each of the partners and organizations participating in this Forum every success in the work towards our common goal: Safe and Healthy Work for All.