Occupational safety and health

An unacceptable human cost

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder outlined the importance of occupational safety and health to sustainable development and decent work, in a speech at the All Russia Week on Occupational Safety and Health, at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Statement | Sochi, Russian Federation | 23 April 2019

Strategic plenary session: “The Future of Occupational Safety in Russia – Safety and Prevention Culture”

Dear Minister Topilin,
Dear Mikhail Schmakov,
Dear Alexander Shokhin,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

It is truly a pleasure to be once again in Russia with you, our tripartite Constituents of the Russian Federation and other countries of the region. Let me thank in particular Minister Maxim Topilin as well as the representatives of the city of Sochi and the Kraï of Krasnodar.

I am grateful as well for the opportunity to discover yet another side of your great country. After several visits to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, then to Ufa and Astrakhan last year, I am very happy to be in Sochi, in this very special Olympic resort at the meeting point of the Black Sea, the Kuban steppe and the Caucasus mountain range!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is probably not a coincidence that the All-Russia Week on Occupational Safety and Health is organised here, where the very first wellness centre was created as early as 1902. It is also a nice way to encourage tourism!

I also cannot help but note that Anton Chekhov, in a way one of the pioneers in social medicine, was born not very far from here, in the Taganrog gulf. His short story “A doctor’s visit” highlights the impact that an oppressive factory environment with poor working conditions has on the health of a young woman, these conditions that were not unlike those described by Maxim Gorki or later by another doctor-publicist, Vikenti Veresayev, who described the life of miners. It was actually the time, after the 1861 Emancipation Manifesto, when the Russian empire started to elaborate a labour legislation, including a factory inspection from 1882 to 1917.

This kind of humanisation of work was precisely the reason for the creation of the ILO in 1919. This is no more and no less that the “humanisation of work” that you have called for in Russia’s national Future of Work report two years ago. It is also what the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work refers to as a “human-centred” approach in its report “Work for a Brighter Future”. I take the opportunity to thank again Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets for her contribution to this human-centred agenda put forward by the Global Commission. I will come back to this a little later.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This approach is no less necessary today than it was in 1882 or 1919. According to this year’s ILO report on “Safety and Health at the heart of the Future of Work”, almost 3 million workers (2.78 million to be exact) die each year from occupational accidents and work-related diseases. In addition, another 374 million workers suffer each year from non-fatal occupational accidents. On top of this totally unacceptable human cost- and it is obviously the most important-, the days lost at work globally represent almost 4 per cent of the world’s GDP. I am pleased to see that the situation in Russia has steadily improved over the last decades with fatal workplace accidents dropping from 4,520 in 2006 to 1,832 in 2016 while in the same period employment injuries decreased from 14,000 to 6,000. This is still too many of course, especially considering that 70 per cent of accidents are due to human factors, mainly a lack of knowledge or a negligence. This is one more argument in favour of prevention, information and training.

But what all of this shows is that deaths, injuries and diseases from work are certainly not inevitable. We can and we must reduce and eliminate them. Precisely for these reasons, safety and health have been at the heart of the ILO from the outset.

Today, nearly half of the ILO instruments in force relate directly or indirectly to OSH issues, and more than 40 standards specifically deal with occupational safety and health, and these are accompanied by over 40 Codes of Practice. These instruments have evolved over time from initially a very narrow approach to specific workplaces risks to what are now standards of a broader scope and of a more promotional nature. We need only look at the Occupational Safety and Health Convention Number 155 of 1981, and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health, Convention Number 187 of 2006 to see the importance attached today to a national OSH prevention culture.

I want to take the opportunity today to call on countries to ratify the ILO OSH Conventions and I want to thank as well the Russian Federation for its ratification at the end of last year, of Convention 167 relating to the construction sector, which has some of the most pervasive occupational hazards of all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s not only working conditions that have changed over time, it’s the nature of health and safety hazards as well. And this will continue in the future. With the transformative technological, demographic and environmental changes shaping a new world of work, it becomes more important than ever to anticipate new and emerging health and safety risks.

For example, the 2013 tragedy of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which killed over 1100 workers, served as a wake-up call to the OSH implications of working in global supply chains. Today, we see other emerging risks. The ILO report on “Safety and Health at the heart of the Future of Work”, warns of the implications of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, bio- and nanotechnologies, and these need to be further investigated. In the same way, the impact on workers’ health of new and diverse forms of employment such as in the digital and platform economy equally require further research. The report draws particular attention to mental health issues, in particular psychosocial risks, and the emergence of non-communicable diseases.

In this connection, the concept of well-being is meaningful, it encompasses all aspects of working life, not only safe and healthy conditions in the place of work, but also how workers feel about their work experience, the social interactions involved as well as the issues of work organization. We should not forget that the 1944 Philadelphia Declaration mandates our Organisation to help people to pursue “both their material well-being and spiritual development”. And, in Russia’s national report to the ILO’s Centenary Future of Work Initiative, this is well reflected in the concept of “humanization of work” and the graduation of the person at work from “homo economicus” to “homo creativus”.

All these challenges have to be addressed with effective prevention strategies. Reinforcing the role of governments and social partners is essential in this regard. Safety and health at work is also key to sustainable development and investment in OSH can contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially SDG-3 on ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all, and SDG-8 on decent work for all and inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

That is why the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work called for all stakeholders to “take responsibility” for building a just and equitable future of work. One aspect of this is the Commission’s recommendation for the establishment of a Universal Labour Guarantee which would allow all workers, regardless of their employment status and contractual relationship, to enjoy a basic package of decent work protections, including safety and health at work. Indeed, the Commission goes one step further: it recommends that a safe and healthy work environment should from now on be recognized as a fundamental principle and right at work as spelled out in the ILO 1998 Declaration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fifty years ago, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for the ILO, then Director-General David Morse said that “we are only at the beginning of our task”. On the eve of our Centenary Conference in June, let me say that the same holds true today, in the light of the challenges ahead of us and of the ILO as institution.

But before that, we have another anniversary to celebrate. In three days, we will mark the 65th anniversary of the return of the then Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation, to the ILO – after an interruption of 15 years. Actually, the history of our relationship has been slightly turbulent – that makes it particularly interesting and probably today more resilient than ever.

Fortunately, we have entered a new era marked by the unprecedented high levels of our current partnership with all tripartite Constituents, government, employers and workers. During my mandate, I have been pleased to work intensively with all Constituents of the Russian Federation, initially in the 2012 International Decent Work Conference in Moscow, and more recently with the signature of a 4th programme of Russia-ILO cooperation for 2017-2020. This period has also seen Russia Presidency of the G-20 and of the BRICS which the ILO has been pleased to support, and let me say that few member States have engaged so strongly as Russia in the ILO’s future of work initiative.

The Government of Russia has also become an important donor for ILO activities and in this regard, I would also like to mention our public-private partnership with Lukoil on the Youth Employment project from which we have learned so much, including in terms of OSH practices in this company. I know that many enterprises represented here are among the “champions” in OSH policies.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All of this echoes the socially-oriented policies put forward by the Russian President for the current period as recalled during his recent address to the Federal Assembly in which he emphasized the country’s capacity “to build a model of socio-economic development that will ensure the best conditions for the self-fulfilment of the people and, hence, provide answers befitting to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Naturally, we will only be able to achieve our goals by pooling our efforts, together in a united society”.

Pooling efforts also applies to all tripartite Constituents, to all of us, if we want to reinvigorate the social contract that took shape in 1919 and to make social justice a reality for all. In short, we need to build a viable project for the Future of Work. In June, the ILO Centenary Conference will aim to adopt an authoritative document- most probably a Declaration-, which we hope, will honour and stand comparison with all past ILO Declarations, notably the 1944 Philadelphia Declaration.

I rely on you all to take part in this great task and I look forward to welcoming you all, along with Prime Minister Medvedev, to Geneva this June for the ILO’s Centenary Conference.

I wish you success and thank you for your attention.