This story was written by the ILO Newsroom For official ILO statements and speeches, please visit our “Statements and Speeches” section.

World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2008 - “Superman has fallen”: Managing risk in the work environment

Each year, an estimated 2.2 million people die from work-related accidents and diseases around the world, according to the ILO which says that work related deaths appear to be on the rise. But risks can be eliminated or minimized at source, says a new ILO report published for World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April. ILO Online reports from the Republic of Korea where the country’s occupational safety and health agency KOSHA launched a number of initiatives to prevent accidents at work.

Article | 24 April 2008

SEOUL, Republic of Korea (ILO Online) – “Spiderman is in the emergency room… Superman has fallen… what happened?”

These are not quotes from the latest movie featuring the two superheroes.

Last September, the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA) launched a two-month online safety campaign to enhance safety consciousness of internet users.

The campaign has opened up various opportunities for participation under the “Everyday Safety Training” slogan, including quizzes, finding hidden hazards, spotting dangerous activities, safety checklists etc.

The humorous banner advertisement on the KOSHA website already caught the attention of thousands of internet users by showing Spiderman hurting himself while swinging from one building to the other and Superman collapsing due to overwork. Along with the online campaign, the Ministry of Labour has created a blog on safety at work.

The campaign reflects the Republic of Korea’s role as one of the lead countries in Asia showing the way to an integrated framework for occupational safety and health (OSH).

The country recently ratified the ILO’s Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health, Convention No. 187 bringing this important international labour standard designed to promote a “preventive safety and health culture” into force in the next 12 months.

The new movement toward a safer workplace will also be key to the agenda of the 18th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work to be held in Seoul, Republic of Korea, from 29 June to 2 July 2008.

The World Congress is held triennially by the ILO, the International Social Security Association (ISSA) and the hosting organization – this year, the event will be hosted by KOSHA. According to Sur Han-Og, KOSHA’s general manager in charge of preparations for the Congress, it will “completely revolutionize the view of the world on safety and health at work”.

The online campaign in the Republic of Korea certainly helped to achieve this goal. It was launched to warn people – not just because of the 2,453 fatal accidents at work in the Republic of Korea in 2006 and the KRW1.5 trillion (approximately US$1.5 billion) losses they brought to this Asian tiger economy.

Most accidents on the job, however, are less spectacular than these fatalities which only represent the tip of the iceberg. But they still have devastating effects for the worker and the economy. KOSHA research revealed that more than 70 per cent, or 8,238 of the 11,687 accidental falls occur from a height of less than 3 meters, mostly in the construction industry.

Confronted with these results, KOSHA declared September 2007 as a “fall prevention month” and encouraged workplaces to post safety signs. Two new training courses, education programs for construction companies, systems for preventing falls and safety inspections on construction sites were developed.

Towards a regional framework for occupational safety and health

But efforts did not stop at the national level.

The Korean Ministry of the Environment recently opened a chemical control information exchange page on its website featuring regulations and policies on chemical control of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. The unified website is designed to link the respective homepages of each country and to facilitate contacts between occupational safety and health managers. It is also expected to establish a basis for cooperation on matters such as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

Last November, the leaders of safety and health agencies from 10 Asian countries adopted the Inchon Declaration to conduct joint research and to share manpower and techniques.

The ILO has been working with a number of countries in the Asian region for the development of national OSH programmes, including Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The Organization has also adopted many international OSH standards, which cover a wide range of sectors and generic hazards. Prevention is at the heart of these standards and is embedded in the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187) and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 197), which seek to promote a preventative safety and health culture and management systems for safety and health through national policies, systems and programmes.

For 28 April, the ILO’s Safework department has produced a report on risk management at work (Note 1). The report highlights the need for governments, employers, workers and their representatives, as well as research and training institutions and international organizations to work together to reduce the vast human and economic burdens of work-related accidents and diseases.

“Faced with the intolerable human burden of 2.2 million fatalities and global economic costs of work-related accidents and diseases amounting to the equivalent of 4 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, events such as World Day for Safety and Health at Work and the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work can trigger significant steps towards improving OSH worldwide”, says Dr. Sameera Al-Tuwaijri, director of the ILO’s Safework department.

“The promotion of occupational safety and health is one of the means to make Decent Work a global reality”, she concludes.

Note 1My life, my work, my safe work – Managing risk in the work environment, 2008, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2008. ISBN 978-92-2-121138-9.