Press release

28 April 2018 – Improving the Safety and Health of Young Workers

This year, to mark the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, 28th of April, the ILO has launched a global campaign to bring into sharp focus the need to improve the safety and health of young workers.

Press release | Colombo, Sri Lanka | 28 April 2018
ILO News (COLOMBO): Approximately 2.78 million workers die every year due to work-related accidents and disease according to the latest global estimates by the International Labour Organization (ILO). More than 85% of these cases are due to occupational illnesses. Non-fatal injuries affect approximately 374 million workers around the globe. And young workers – those between the ages of 15 and 24 - are disproportionately affected by work related illness and accidents.

This year, to mark the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, 28th of April, the ILO has launched a global campaign to bring into sharp focus the need to improve the safety and health of young workers. “Youth undergo physical, psychosocial, and emotional development and tend to be more risk-taking. They are more susceptible to occupational hazards than adults and the long-term consequences on their health and well-being can be devastating” notes Ms. Simrin Singh, Country Director of the ILO for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. “Young workers also lack the bargaining power and often know less about their labour rights compared to older more experienced workers. That is precisely why we need to take very urgent and specific actions to protect this age group.”
From left to right: Mr Adambawa Haleemdeen, Chief Safety Manager L&T Constructions, Dr Inoka Suraweera,Consultant Community Physician, Ministry of Health, Ms Simrin Singh, ILO Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Mr A Wimalaweera, Commissioner General of Labour, Mr. Buvaneka Dushantha, Safety Officer, Insee Cement
In Sri Lanka, efforts are underway but more work needs to be done for youth. Sri Lankan youth are particularly vulnerable in part due to limited knowledge and awareness on occupational safety and health. According to Mr. RPA Wimalaweera, Commissioner General of Labour, Department of Labour, “In Sri Lanka, youth are ill-prepared when they join the labour force. We know that people die and fall ill due to occupational accidents and injuries, but the issue is taken too lightly.“ Mr. K Marimuttu, Vice President Administration and Legal of the Ceylon Workers Congress whose organization works closely with young workers in Sri Lanka’s plantations notes that “Youth in plantations are vulnerable to Occupational Safety and Health hazards. Revision of the current Workman’s Compensation Ordinance and passage of a proposed OSH Act need to be introduced to better safeguard the lives and also take care of workers in the event of an accident or illness. We need to provide more training and conduct awareness raising programmes in line with the OSH Act to prevent any fatal and non-fatal injuries and illnesses.”

Fatal and non-fatal injuries at work are preventable and the associated risks can be minimized. Given that fatal and non-fatal injuries result in huge costs for the employer, in terms of absenteeism, replacement of workers, and health care costs, there are clear incentives for employers to invest in preventive efforts and adhere to occupational safety and health (OSH) guidelines and protocols. Dr. Nirmalie Champika Amarasinghe, Director General of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), notes that “For workers, occupational safety and health measures deal with the quality of their lives. For employers, OSH leads to greater productivity, efficiency, and growth.”

Commenting on the importance of maintaining the highest OSH standards at the workplace, the Employers Federation of Ceylon Director General Mr. Kanishka Weerasinghe states that “OSH is a priority element in the agenda of Sustainable Enterprises and we are immensely proud that our members have been at the forefront of promoting compliance of these values throughout the country. It is incumbent upon us to take this message to every nook & corner of this island to ensure that our nation’s workforce is healthy. Giving special attention to the needs of our youth is essential.”

OSH Poster
Working directly with youth is critical to ensuring that they are aware of their rights and the risks involved in the work that they do. In 2017, for example, ILO and NIOSH worked together with youth, and their teachers, at vocational training centers integrating OSH training into their curricula so that they are better equipped for a safe and healthy world of work.

The Department of Labour is expanding its OSH outreach by expanding its pool of Labour Officers (inspectors) who will be trained on OSH and by tapping into other local networks and resources to better detect and report on workplace health hazards. “Sri Lanka needs to do more on OSH by utilizing the existing nation-wide networks of Grama Niladhari services, labour officers, and other public services available to implement preventative action at a grass-root level,” said the Commissioner General of Labour.

The ILO Country Office for Sri Lanka & the Maldives, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour, Employers Federation of Ceylon, Workers Organizations and NIOSH organized a workshop to commemorate the event. The workshop consisted of technical sessions on improving young workers safety followed by a panel discussion on “Multi-dimensional approaches to improving occupational safety and health of young workers”.