Director-General Guy Ryder Opening Address at XXI World Congress on Safety and Health-Transcript

Transcript of Statement by Director-General Guy Ryder during opening ceremonies at the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health 2017, in Singapore

Statement | 06 October 2017
Prime Minister Lee, Ministers, President of the international Social Security Association, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen. It is truly an honour to participate in the opening of this 21st World Congress on Safety and Health at work and I have to say that the presence of all of you today, all three thousand four hundred eighty four of you is indeed testimony to the global significance of the event which now begins.

Prime Minister thank you for the invitation for us to come to Singapore and for me to join you, it's a great pleasure to be back here. As has been said the ILO is a co-organizer and we're proud to be a co-organizer of this event with our colleagues at ISSA. And I think I can speak for us both when I say we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Minister of Manpower Lim and his wonderful team. They have shouldered much of the organizational responsibility of bringing us together.

Ladies and gentlemen three years ago at the twentieth World Congress in Frankfurt I said that safe and healthy work sits alongside fundamental rights at work and is a foundational element to sustainable development.

And yet today we are announcing the new global figures on work related illnesses and injuries developed by Finland and Singapore, the European Union and the International Commission on Occupational Health, with the support of the International Labour Organization. What does that data show? It shows that some 2.78 million workers continue to die each year from work related injuries and illnesses and that 2.4 million of those are the result of work related diseases. And while the number of injuries is going down in developed countries, they continue to grow in developing countries. And these work related deaths illnesses and injuries continue to cause incalculable human suffering. This is an unacceptable and an avoidable toll on human lives and it is an imperative for us all to act together to make a difference and let's be clear, the right to safety and health at work is a human right. There is no price, to a human life lost or a human life destroyed. But if reasons were needed for us to act to invest on safety and health, they might also be found in the extraordinary economic costs to workers, to their families, to businesses and to national economies from this state of affairs.

The global economic impact of the current situation is currently estimated to be 3.94 percent of global GDP per year. That adds up to 2.9 trillion U.S. dollars. And if you have trouble wondering what 2.9 trillion U.S. dollars really means, let me say that it roughly equals the total GDP of the poorest 130 countries in the world. That's the price that's being paid.

Ladies and gentlemen these numbers along with the growing body of evidence of the benefits of sound OSH practices to productivity and to successful enterprises, as well as the reality of the all too frequent catastrophic workplace accidents that happen, has resulted in a steadily increasing demand since our Congress in Frankfurt for improvement, for qualitative improvements in safety and health of the world's workers. And it's encouraging. That demand has resulted in significant commitments by world leaders to prioritize safety and health at work and with the adoption by the United Nations of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, occupational safety and health has been fully and explicitly recognized as a priority of the global development agenda. That is to say a key to a better future leaving nobody behind.

Now clearly certain OSH challenges are global challenges and as such require global solutions. This morning I was participating in the special event on the Future of Work and Osh. At that meeting. Finland's minister Mattila launched the idea of a global OSH coalition on safety and health at work. And I was able to say then and I want to reiterate it before this public today that the ILO strongly supports this initiative and is anxious to work with all interested partners to bring it into being, and I invite you to join in that effort.

So let me briefly outline what seem to me some of the elements of these global challenges. I just briefly want to outline five of the challenges that I think we need to address. Firstly we need OSH data that is reliable and comparable coupled with key indicators that will drive improved performance. Now the new and more robust global and regional OSH estimates I have referred to result from collaboration amongst the ministries and institutes of Finland and Singapore, the International Commission on Occupational Health and EU OSHA as well as the work of the ILO and I think that's an example of what a coalition of actors can achieve in the future. The ILO is working with the World Health Organization to design a common methodology that can be used in the future by both organizations to develop global OSH estimates and researchers working with the International Commission on Occupational Health and researchers around the world. But with all of that it has to be understood that these efforts will only produce results if national data collection systems improve to really know the number of work related injuries and diseases. Member States must redouble their own efforts.

The second challenge I believe is that we must give priority to those most vulnerable at work. And that means that the safety and health of migrant workers has to be a global concern. The international community recognizes that overall migration governance is weak and it is fragmented. And we know that migrant workers often work in hazardous jobs and in far too many cases are not properly covered by labour health and social protections or if they are, their ability to access protections is often thwarted by factors such as language and cultural barriers and even isolation and discrimination. Now the ILO is working to address these issues through its own Fair Recruitment initiative and its engagement in the development of the United Nations Global Compact on Migration. But I suggest that this is a work for us all.

A third global challenge is improving OSH in global supply chains. In 2016 the ILO conference addressed this question and identified the need for greater knowledge about working conditions in enterprises along the chains. In response we are piloting a methodology for identifying OSH vulnerabilities in the agricultural supply chain and developing targeted interventions accordingly. And these include assisting labour inspectorates to increase and strengthen their capacities and to engage stakeholders who are positioned to influence compliance. And work like this is being integrated together under an overarching single strategy supported by the ILO administered Vision Zero Fund which was created by the G7 and addresses OSH in global supply chains and this initiative was welcomed by the G20 earlier this year.

The fourth global challenge is creating mechanisms for the global sharing of OSH data, knowledge and expertise and finding the means to sustain such networks. Now the ILO has already completed a global survey establishing a comprehensive compilation of OSH institutions, organizations and agencies and their scope of work, and it is also supporting existing international and regional networks. But I think again we need to take this work forward together.

Ladies and gentlemen the last of the global challenges I want to highlight has to do with the future of work and the implications for the safety and the health of working people. For many decades now, we have been reacting to the growing body of evidence on work related hazards and their impact on workers’ health and safety. By and large our energies have been directed towards retrofitting work and workplaces to eliminate hazards after significant harm has already been done. Think of asbestos, think of ergonomic hazards, and you get the idea. As our knowledge of Occupational Safety and Health hazards has grown, as its scope has expanded beyond physical biological and chemical hazards to psychosocial hazards and hazards related to work organization, I believe it is now more clearly understood that all work has an impact, positive or negative, on workers’ health and safety.

With this knowledge when we look to the future of work we can no longer have a wait and see attitude. We need to anticipate the impact that future jobs and future ways of organizing work will have on the safety and health of workers. And that responsibility doesn't rest only with governments and with employers and workers, but also with the developers of technology with designers and manufacturers of equipment machinery and chemicals, with architects with OSH experts and with human resource professionals.

What this tells us I think, is that taking a proactive prevention based approach to improving safety and health and efforts to create a culture of prevention, continues to be the right approach and that key ILO instruments, conventions 155 and 187 and instruments such as the ILO’s management system guidelines, I do think equip us with mechanisms to anticipate the emerging future of work. But this approach is being challenged by changes in work organization as new and diverse forms of production emerge. We are confronted with questions such as, “Who is responsible for safety and health in a global supply chain, for workers in the platform economy, for workplaces in workers homes or on the other side of the globe?” And when we've figured all of that out, how do we intend to regulate and to enforce that responsibility?

Ladies and gentlemen we all know from experience that work places where there are trade unions collective agreements addressing safety and health, and active safety and health committees, they are safer and healthier workplaces. And we have to think about the future mechanisms and agencies of tripartism and social dialogue. Will they be robust and adaptable enough to meet the needs of a transformed global economy? Because of all of these challenges and many others, the ILO has decided to mark its centenary in 2019 with a centenary initiative on the future of work and we launched the Global Commission on the Future of Work just last month under the co-chairing of the Prime Minister of Sweden and the President of Mauritius. I feel that the Global Commission as it starts its work will benefit enormously from the inputs and the views expressed at this conference.

To conclude ladies and gentlemen, when we speak as I am of the future, I believe we must speak of youth. For this world congress with assistance from the Singapore Ministry of Manpower, the ILO has organized as part of our SafeYouth@Work Project funded by the US Department of Labour, a parallel youth conference bringing to Singapore 125 young OSH champions committed to improving the safety and health of young workers.

Forty million young people enter the world’s labour markets every year, they are the best educated generation our world has ever seen, and we need to take advantage of their skills and the demographic dividends they can bring by expanding investment in youth employment. But as we seek youth employment we know that will be for naught if on the first day on the job, or any other day, a young worker is injured or killed. How the future of work is forged will of course have the greatest impact on this and the next generation, and they must have a voice in the process including on OSH.

So I want to encourage you to engage with our Youth Champions who are amongst you. They are the ones with colourful scarves, a smile on their face, and even more energy than the rest of you.

Engage with them, make them part of the story, and may the story of this congress be one of success and determination for the future. I thank you.