G7 Labour and Employment Ministers Meeting

Intervention by ILO Director-General Guy Ryder on “Improving Occupational Health and Safety”

Statement | Wolfsburg, Germany, 24 May 2022 | 24 May 2022
Minister Heil,

If there is one subject on which there is across the board consensus, it is the idea that all workplaces should be safe and should not damage the people who perform the work. On that, Governments, Employers and Workers all agree. It has been a constitutional objective of the ILO for a century.

But we are a long way away still. Two figures sum it up.

Nearly 3 million people die from work-related causes each year. Particularly at this time when we so deplore the loss of life due to conflict, we must remember what the costs of unsafe work really are.

And lost production through lost working days adds up to almost 4 per cent of annual global GDP.

It adds up to a human cost and an economic cost of very substantial proportions.

In part this is a legacy of unfinished business – hazards that have been with us for a very long time.
But new threats are emerging too.

And let us not forget the perspectives we gained from the painful experience of COVID - which is not behind us.

So what about those new hazards?

We can make a link with the previous discussion on climate change. Hazards induced by environmental degradation and climate change are producing a lot of new problems.

One is that of work-related heat stress – as we have seen much discussed recently in the case of Qatar. But that is just one example – and so we very much welcome the G7 road map to help us address these climate- related issues.

There are new chemical hazards.

And new hazards that result from remote working – and the differing home working conditions involved. The question also arises of who has the responsibility for monitoring the working conditions in those premises.

Psycho-social hazards are another important category.

On the ILO side, we have a battery of international labour standards often dealing initially with specific hazards, and now much more generally with OSH systems.

And we are currently updating our normative framework on occupational safety and health:
  • In the near future, we will be discussing a new standard on biological hazards.
  • Other standards, namely on chemicals and ergonomics will follow.
Governments also need to strengthen their national occupational health and safety systems. In that regard, we see how well Germany is doing.

Governments must resist the pressures to underinvest in labour inspection.

We need workplace action, undertaken by Workers and Employers.

And we need sectoral action, as there is very often a commonality of hazards in any sector.

I would add too that we need good practices along global supply chains. The Vision Zero Fund is an example of that, as we will discuss in a moment. This can provide vectors of good practice in this area.

Two last thoughts:
  1. even if we become much more successful than we have been in eliminating harmful and dangerous situations and protecting working people from harm, that has to be just the starting point. The continuation of the agenda has to be promoting well-being at work. We’re seeing this come much more into focus, particularly after COVID. As the “Great Resignation” shows, people are making new demands of what want from their work; and some governments are adjusting their actions in consequence. “Do no harm“ is the absolute minimum; workers need more fulfilment – in the words of the ILO Constitution, more “self-realization”. We need to think about the implications of this, in different ways.
  2. On the ILC agenda this year, we are holding a discussion about how to elevate OSH into a category of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work within the Declaration we originally adopted in 1998. I won’t go through the technicalities. They are significant - but they are not insuperable. Your support in the G7 communiqué will help the ILC get the job done in the next 2 weeks.
Thank you.