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Save workers’ lives and make occupational health and safety fundamental right

27 September, 2021According to the first joint WHO/ILO monitoring report, at least 1.9 million workers lose their lives every year due to the work-related diseases and injuries. However, when adding causes of death by risk factors not included and filling in information gaps from poor record-keeping to the data from 2000 – 2016, the number is closer to a staggering 3 million deaths.

Since the adoption of the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work in 2019 with a clear statement on “safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work”, IndustriALL Global Union, together with ITUC and other global unions has been campaigning to get occupational health and safety recognised by the ILO as a fundamental principle and right at work. The current Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the necessity of urgent and long overdue steps by the ILO. 

In November this year, the ILO Governing Body will decide on whether to include the matter in the agenda of the 2022 International Labour Conference. IndustriALL and other global unions are insisting that this needs to be done by amending the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, as this would be the easiest and fastest way to include occupational health and safety in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL Global Union assistant general secretary, says:

"The joint global WHO/ILO report discloses a reality we already know too well. All the killings of workers are preventable – enough is enough. This carnage must come to an end. We reiterate our strong demand to the ILO to make occupational health and safety a fundamental right, along with freedom of association, collective bargaining and others.”

According to the WHO/ILO monitoring report, diseases account for more than 80 per cent of the deaths, while 19.3 per cent are attributable to injuries. A disproportionately large work-related burden of disease is observed in Africa, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific, among males and older age groups.

The occupational risk factor with the largest number of attributable deaths was the exposure to long working hours (≥ 55 hours per week), followed by occupational exposure to particulate matter, gases and fumes and occupational injuries. The health outcome with the largest work-related burden of deaths was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, followed by stroke and ischemic heart disease.