UN agency aims to improve worker health and safety worldwide
The International Labour Organization (ILO), founded in 1919, is the first (and oldest) specialized agency of the United Nations (UN).
The ILO says it holds a unique position as a tripartite structure which gives equal voice to workers, employers and governments when shaping labour standards, policies and programs – it even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969 for its efforts to pursue decent work standards and justice for workers around the world.
Safety + Health for All
In 2016, the ILO launched one of its flagship programs, Safety + Health for All.
The program was created with the aim of improving the health and safety of workers worldwide, and reducing the global incidence of work-related deaths, injuries and diseases, says Dr. Manal Azzi, Senior Occupational Safety and Health Specialist, ILO.
“The programme has a focus on the strategic areas of building knowledge, strengthening national capacities, creating conducive national frameworks and promoting demand for safe and healthy workplaces, but also pays particular attention to the difficulties that developing countries encounter,” says Dr. Azzi.
“In addition,” she says, “the programme targets priority hazardous sectors, such as agriculture and construction, workers with high vulnerability, young workers, women, migrant workers, small and medium sized enterprises and global supply chains.”
Worker health and safety is a global issue. According to the ILO, 2.78 million workers die each year from work-related injuries and illnesses, 374 million suffer from non-fatal work related injuries and diseases, and lost workdays represent around 4 per cent of the world’s annual GDP.
Four strategic areas
To accomplish its goals, the ILO’s program focuses on four key strategic areas: Building knowledge, strengthening national capacities, creating conducive national frameworks and promoting demand for safe and healthy workplaces. It also pays particular attention to the difficulties that developing countries encounter.
“Building knowledge is essential for understanding work related burden of diseases and injuries as well as identifying the challenges faced by workers and creating programs for effective risk mitigation and prevention,” says Dr. Azzi.
On the next two points, she says that strengthening national capacities involves helping countries implement effective laws and regulations and programs to address health and safety issues, whilst conducive national frameworks are important to ensure that legal and policy frameworks at the national level are sound and effective, allowing for infrastructure to address risks and facilitation of coordination between OSH actors.
“Finally,” she says, “promoting demand for safe and healthy workplaces is an important element and includes awareness raising among workers and employers, especially young workers, on understanding OSH hazards and risks in the workplace.”
The effects of COVID-19
The pandemic has had a huge effect on worker safety worldwide.
“Many workers have faced the threat of acquiring the virus at work,” says Dr. Azzi, “particularly those working in healthcare, emergency services and other occupations that include close contact with the public, close contact between workers or poor ventilation.”
In addition, she says that the measures that have been taken to mitigate the risk of the virus (including teleworking, use of heavy PPE or physical distancing) have presented new health and safety risks including ergonomic, psychosocial and mental health concerns.
What the post-COVID landscape will look like for workers in still a question mark, but Dr. Azzi posits that in addition to the economic impacts of the pandemic on employment, there will likely be many persisting changes to the world of work, which will affect worker health and safety.
The new risks cited above will need to be addressed, she says.
Furthermore, “an increased use of technology in many sectors may also pose new OSH risks,” says Dr. Azzi.