Mr Srinivas B Reddy Country Director, International Labour Organization, Bangladesh On Sixty-seventh Session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia

Mr Srinivas B Reddy Country Director, International Labour Organization, Bangladesh On Sixty-seventh Session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia

Statement | Dhaka, Bangladesh | 11 September 2014
As a specialized agency, the ILO’s focus is on work place issues. To quote our Director General Mr. Guy Rider: “The right to a safe and healthy workplace is a basic human right - a right to be respected at every level of development and in different economic conditions. Respecting this human right is an obligation - as well as a condition for sustainable economic development.” This is why Safe Work is at the heart of ILO’s Decent Work Agenda. The ILO firmly believes that without safe work, there is no decent work.
The right to life is fundamental; however the reality for millions of workers is very different. It is estimated that some 2.2 million women and men around the globe succumb to work-related accidents and diseases every year. That’s roughly one death every 15 seconds. Meanwhile, around 270 million work-related accidents and 160 million cases of work-related diseases occur annually worldwide.
As always it is the poorest, least protected least informed and least trained workers who face the highest risks in terms of work-related accidents and illnesses. Women, children, people with disabilities, migrant workers and ethnic minorities are most vulnerable. We must strive to ensure that workplace deaths and accidents never become accepted as just ‘part of doing business.’
Recently, an event took place which shone the world’s attention on occupational safety and health issues here in Bangladesh. The collapse of Rana Plaza in April last year saw more than 1,100 workers killed and some 2,500 injured. Many thousands more family members of the dead and injured were also badly affected.

Rana Plaza, as well as an earlier fire in the Tazreen garment factory in which 117 workers died were a wakeup call. Things had to change.
In the immediate aftermath of these disasters ILO worked with the Government of Bangladesh, employers’ and workers’ organizations to develop and agree a series of immediate and longer-term actions aimed at ensuring fire and structural safety of workplaces.
ILO subsequently launched a US$ 24 million programme funded by Canada, the Netherlands and the UK to support implementation of the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity and to improve working conditions in the ready-made garment sector. Key elements are already being implemented. These include building and fire safety assessments, comprehensive labour inspection reforms, boosting occupational safety and health, as well as rehabilitation and skills training. By bringing together, and working closely with, the government, employers, workers and international community we are helping create a safe working environment for garment sector employees as well as those in other sectors.

The Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen fire were terrible tragedies with an unacceptable human cost. Yet from the dark ashes of these disasters we must strive to ensure a better, brighter future for workers throughout Bangladesh.

In addition to the safety of workers we should also consider their health. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce and we need to seek the integration of public health systems with workplace safety and health. For example, a large proportion of Bangladesh’s four million garment workers are young women. Therefore attention needs to be paid to women’s health issues as well as those relating to younger people entering the workforce.

In the broader universe we need to place more emphasis on social protection, on education, on training. This can be done by integrating occupational safety and health within vocational training courses as well as enterprise training programmes.

There must also be a strong commitment amongst all concerned to prevention. Above all else we must actively seek to foster a culture of ‘preventative safety and health’ in order to reduce work-related accidents and illness.

For governments and employers the message should be clear: better educated, healthier workers carrying out decent work in safe surroundings will drive growth, not hinder it.

Before I conclude, I would like to again quote our Director General Mr. Guy Rider who called for a “culture of intolerance towards risks at work.” He emphasized that safety and health are an integral part of all ILO work.

He further said that “today the challenge we face is a daunting one. Work claims more victims around the globe than war and that is why the task ahead is to establish a permanent culture of consciousness.”

By doing so we can keep the spotlight continuously on the need to ensure safe and healthy workplaces for all.

Let us work together towards that end with all our might.

Thank you.