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ILO Highlights Growing Risks to Worker Health and Safety


Press release | 22 April 1996


GENEVA (ILO news)- Officials of the International Labour Office today called on delegates to the 14th World Congress on Occupational Safety and Health to intensify efforts to reduce work-related accidents and diseases, which are on the increase in many countries, and to strengthen international cooperation in dealing with new chemical and environmental hazards in the workplace.

Speaking in Madrid at the opening of the Congress, Mr. Ali Taqi, Assistant Director General of ILO said that the total number of work-related accidents each year has grown to an estimated 125 million worldwide. The number of fatal accidents is as high as 220,000 annually. He argued that no matter what the economic stresses or competitive pressures in the global economy, the ILO Constitution clearly committed the Organization's 173 member States to the protection of workers against sickness, disease and injury arising out of their employment:

"We must demonstrate that, far from being an obstacle to economic growth and employment, the protection of safety, health and the working environment is integral to good management, productivity and quality control."

The ILO estimates that the rate of fatal accidents worldwide is approximately 6 per 100,000 workers, but warns that this relatively low number masks the extent of risk in certain occupations, such as construction work, where the rate of fatal accidents may be 10 or even 20 times higher than the average.

"The figures show that, in certain occupations, work alone may create risks exceeding all other sources of risk including voluntary risks, such as smoking or riding a motorcycle," said Ali Taqi.

The incidence of death, occupational fatalities and diseases is much higher in developing than in developed countries, but no region of the world is spared. In the European Union alone, in spite of improvements in recent years, around 8,000 workers still lose their lives annually as a result of occupational accidents, and almost 10 million are victims of work-related accidents or occupational diseases.

In developing countries, the workers most exposed to occupational risks are those in agriculture, primary extraction industries and heavy manufacturing. Poor equipment, heavy workloads, and even poisoning due to pesticides and organic dusts all take their toll on worker health and safety. In addition, the nature of work-related hazards is changing with the introduction of new chemical substances, which pose threats not only to workers, but to entire communities. The proliferation of dangerous substances underscores "the great importance of information on chemicals during the whole life cycle of chemical products," said the ILO.

The 14th World Conference on Occupational Safety and Health will be held in Madrid, Spain from 22-26 April 1996. 2,200 participants are expected from 105 countries at all levels of economic development.

The Congress is organized by the International Labour Office and the International Social Security Association (ISSA) in collaboration with the Spanish Ministry of Labour and Social Security through the National Institute for Safety and Hygiene at Work.

Subjects to be addressed include the implications for occupational safety and health in the globalization of economic relations, cooperation efforts at all levels, hazard control in small and medium-sized enterprises, chemical hazard prevention, new approaches to machine safety, new trends in training, safety in construction, agriculture and the health sector.

The ILO continues to be at the forefront of the international fight to improve occupational health and safety. It recently launched a major campaign for the ratification of ILO Conventions covering the basic rights of workers. The ILO has developed a number of new Conventions, including those on Safety and Health in Mines, 1995 (No. 176), on Chemicals, 1990 (No. 170) and on the Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents, 1993 (No. 174).

The ILO, UNEP, WHO, UNIDO, FAO and OECD are implementing an Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals, with the ILO taking the lead on harmonizing the classification and labelling of chemicals. In addition to maintaining a broad data-base of information on chemical safety, the ILO will soon issue an essential reference work for occupational health and safety specialists. The revised, 4th edition of the Encyclopaedia on Occupational Health and Safety will be published in four volumes.