UN labour chief cautions against lowered standards on world safety day

Life saving drill at sea by the crew of a cargo ship

28 April 2009 – Marking this year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the head of the United Nation’s labour arm warned against a relaxation of standards due to the global economic crisis.

“Unsafe work is a human tragedy,” Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said in a statement issued to mark the Day, observed annually on 28 April.

“We must be particularly vigilant to ensure that strategies for adjustment and economic recovery do not follow a low road which devalues human life and safety in the workplace,” he added.

The ILO Programme on Safety and Health at Work (SafeWork) estimates that nearly 1 million workers suffer a workplace accident and more than 5,500 workers die each day due to accidents or disease encountered at their place of employment.

In their latest reports, SafeWork officials have expressed concern that the current economic crisis could have a significant impact on safety and health at work.

“It is expected that the number of workplace accidents and diseases and ill health due to unemployment will rise in light of the present economic crisis,” Sameera Al-Tuwaijri, Director of the SafeWork Programme, said.

Dr. Al-Tuwaijri surmised that a decrease in public spending could compromise the capacities of labour inspectorates and other occupational safety and health services. In that case, he said, dangerous working conditions will increase, adding to the risk of accidents and ill-health.

To raise awareness of such issues, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work is to be marked in scores of countries and hundreds of localities on all continents this year, ILO said, with events ranging from memorial ceremonies for fallen workers to the declaration of national days of occupational safety.

Celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, the ILO has addressed safety and health at work since its founding in 1919, and standards for occupational safety and health were among the first it adopted, the Organization said.

In his statement today, Mr. Somavia said, “then, as today, the call to protect workers against sickness, disease and injury arising out of employment has been at the heart of the ILO’s agenda, a major focus of standard-setting and other means of action.”


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