Uldis Augulis, Latvian Minister of Welfare and current chair of the Employment and Social Policy Council (EPSCO) welcomed the positive contributions made in this context by his colleagues from France, Georgia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States, as well as the input from Marianna Thyssen, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility.
Minister Augulis said that expanding the outreach and impact of occupational safety and health (OSH) standards in micro and small enterprises “is one of the priorities in the programme of the Latvian Presidency of the European Union. As the presiding country on the ministerial and experts’ level, Latvia has put emphasis on the adaptation to new challenges in the working environment, including the practical implementation of health and safety standards in small and micro enterprises; new and emerging risk factors; occupational diseases and the ageing workforce.”
Thanking the Latvian Presidency for its engagement, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder referred to a hidden OSH tragedy: “We know that more than 2 million workers die every year from occupational injuries and diseases. Over 313 million workers suffer non-fatal occupational injuries each year, equating to 860,000 people injured on the job daily. In addition to the human tragedy every death, injury and illness represents, there are also the costs that, according to our estimates, amount to around 4 per cent of the world’s GDP.”
Small and micro enterprises (MSEs) represent the majority of businesses around the world and employ a very large share of the global workforce. Micro enterprises are typically defined as employing up to ten people, while small enterprises have 10-100 workers. In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, they represent more than 95 per cent of all firms and account for around 46 per cent of total employment.
“in order to address the specific target group of small and micro enterprises and to inform them about the crucial importance of labour protection, the use of modern and innovative tools, including the latest technologies and means of communication, is essential.”Mr Uldis Augulis
In the EU, legally registered micro and small enterprises contribute to some 50 per cent of total employment – while often lacking a structured approach to OSH management. The absence of directly available guidance and expertise, as well as low awareness about risks and obligations, are the main factors behind deficient OSH enforcement in micro and small enterprises. Moreover, the growing use of temporary contracts, self-employment, and contractual arrangements involving multiple parties such as subcontracting have added new challenges to the prevention of physical and psychosocial hazards.
For these reasons, occupational risks in micro and small enterprises are much higher compared to large firms: in MSEs the fatal accident rate is nearly double that of larger companies. Smaller establishments tend also to show lower levels of compliance with national and international legislation.
Minister Augulis lauded on-goingactivities and projects to improve the working environment bothat the national and the international levelsthat had been carried out so far by the ILO and the EU. He mentioned particularly the ILO Plan of Action 2010-16 to achieve widespread ratification and effective implementation of the occupational safety and health instruments and the EU’s new Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-20.
He added however, that “in order to address the specific target group of small and micro enterprises and to inform them about the crucial importance of labour protection, the use of modern and innovative tools, including the latest technologies and means of communication, is essential.”
Participants at the Informal Ministerial Meeting agreed that effectively matching the needs and the supply of OSH resources remained a major challenge. Joint and concerted efforts were therefore needed at the national and international levels. Best practices that emerged in recent years appeared to be tailored, action-oriented, timely and low-cost approaches, combining health and safety with other management goals. This required simplifying legislation where appropriate, and providing guidance and support to MSEs in order to facilitate risk assessment in a consensual, creative and more focused way.
Stressing the significant role MSEs are playing in most nations’ economies and the specific challenges faced by them in the implementation of OSH policies, Guy Ryder concluded that “to foster such implementation, it is essential to deeply root a culture of prevention in societies and strengthen national policies, systems and programmes, including a strong labour administration and enforcement mechanisms to ensure effective compliance.”