A Discourse: Occupational safety and Health

Adapted for International Labour Organization (ILO)

Ironically, most employees do not possess the relevant knowledge about their occupational right to safe and healthy working environment as long as they remain in a paid job. The Discourse on the Duties of Employer in Ensuring the Safety of their Employees at Workplace as Set out in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Constitution.

The ILO Constitution sets forth the principle that workers should be protected from sickness, disease and injury arising from their employment. et for millions of workers the reality is very different. The ILO estimates that 2.02 million people die each year from work-related accidents or diseases. A further 317 million people suffer from work-related diseases, and there are an estimated 337 million fatal and non-fatal work-related accidents per year. The suffering caused by such accidents and illnesses to workers and their families is incalculable. In economic terms, the ILO has estimated that 4% of the world’s annual GDP is lost because of occupational diseases and accidents. Employers face costly early retirements, loss of skilled staff, absenteeism, and high insurance premiums due to work-related accidents and diseases. Yet many of these tragedies are preventable through the implementation of sound prevention, reporting and inspection practices. ILO standards on occupational safety and health provide essential tools for governments, employers, and workers to establish such practices and to provide for maximum safety at work. In 2003 the ILO adopted a global strategy to improve occupational safety and health which included the introduction of a preventive safety and health culture, the promotion and development of relevant instruments, and technical assistance.

Relevant ILO Occupational Safety and Health

The ILO has adopted more than 40 standards specifically dealing with occupational safety and health, as well as over 40 Codes of Practice. Nearly half of ILO instruments deal directly or indirectly with occupational safety and health issues. These fundamental principles guiding occupational safety and health are considered as duties of, not only the employers but also government and other enterprises. These duties include:

 Establishment of Occupational Safety and Health Policy

It is the duty of employers to ensure that occupational safety and health policy is in place and promoted. According to Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) and its Protocol of 2002, the convention provides for the adoption of a coherent national occupational safety and health policy, as well as action to be taken by governments and within enterprises to promote occupational safety and health and to improve working conditions. This policy shall be developed by taking into consideration national conditions and practice.

The Protocol calls for the establishment and the periodic review of requirements and procedures for the recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases, and for the publication of related annual statistics.

This Convention applies to all branches of economic activity and to all workers in the branches of economic activity covered. or the purpose of this Convention—

For the purpose of this article:

the term “branches of economic activity” covers all branches in which workers are employed, including the public service;

(b) the term “workers” covers all employed persons, including public employees;

(c) the term workplace covers all places where workers need to be or to go by reason of their work and which are under the direct or indirect control of the employer;

(d) the term “regulations” covers all provisions given force of law by the competent authority or authorities;

(e) the term “health”, in relation to work, indicates not merely the absence of disease or infirmity; it also includes the physical and mental elements affecting health which are directly related to safety and hygiene at work.

Provision of Enterprise-level occupational health Services

Employers should put in place occupational health service on prevention and advisory capacity as stated in Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161). This convention provides for the establishment of enterprise-level occupational health services which are entrusted with essentially preventive functions and which are responsible for advising the employer, the workers and their representatives in the enterprise on maintaining a safe and healthy working environment.

For the purpose of this article:

The term “occupational health services” means services entrusted with essentially preventive functions and responsible for advising the employer, the workers and their representatives in the undertaking on-

  • the requirements for establishing and maintaining a safe and healthy working environment which will facilitate optimal physical and mental health in relation to work;
    • the adaptation of work to the capabilities of workers in the light of their state of physical and mental health;

The term “workers’ representatives in the undertaking” means persons who are recognised as such under national law or practice

Promotion of Occupational Safety and health Culture in working Environment

Employers shall actively encourage a culture for safe and healthy working environment. Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187)
aims at promoting a preventative safety and health culture and progressively achieving a safe and healthy working environment. It requires ratifying States to develop, in consultation with the most representative organizations of employers and workers, a national policy, national system, and national programme on occupational safety and health. The national policy shall be developed in accordance with the principles of Article 4 of the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), and the national systems and programmes shall be developed considering the principles set out in relevant ILO instruments. A list of relevant instruments is contained in the Annex to the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Recommendation, 2006 (No. 197).

National systems shall provide the infrastructure for implementing national policy and programmes on occupational safety and health, such as laws and regulations, authorities or bodies, compliance mechanisms including systems of inspection, and arrangements at the level of the undertaking. National programmes shall include time-bound measures to promote occupational safety and health, enabling a measuring of progress.

For the purpose of this article:

  •  the term national policy refers to the national policy on occupational safety and health and the working environment developed in accordance with the principles of Article 4 of the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155);
    • the term national system for occupational safety and health or national system refers to the infrastructure which provides the main framework for implementing the national policy and national programmes on occupational safety and health;
    • the term national programme on occupational safety and health or national programme refers to any national programme that includes objectives to be achieved in a predetermined time frame, priorities and means of action formulated to improve occupational safety and health, and means to assess progress;
    • the term a national preventative safety and health culture refers to a culture in which the right to a safe and healthy working environment is respected at all levels, where government, employers and workers actively participate in securing a safe and healthy working environment through a system of defined rights, responsibilities and duties, and where the principle of prevention is accorded the highest priority.

There are also Health and safety in particular branches of economic activity and Protection against specific risks for which employers have full responsibility. Some of these conventions are considered as follow;  

Hygiene (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1964 (No. 120)
This instrument has the objective of preserving the health and welfare of workers employed in trading establishments, and establishments, institutions and administrative services in which workers are mainly engaged in office work and other related services through elementary hygiene measures responding to the requirements of welfare at the workplace.

Safety and Health in Construction Convention, 1988 (No. 167)
The convention provides for detailed technical preventive and protective measures having due regard for the specific requirements of this sector. These measures relate to safety of workplaces, machines and equipment used, work at heights and work executed in compressed air.

Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995 (No. 176)
This instrument regulates the various aspects of safety and health characteristic for work in mines, including inspection, special working devices, and special protective equipment of workers. It also prescribes requirements relating to mine rescue.

Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention, 2001 (No. 184)  
The convention has the objective of preventing accidents and injury to health arising out of, linked with, or occurring in the course of agricultural and forestry work. To this end, the Convention includes measures relating to machinery safety and ergonomics, handling and transport of materials, sound management of chemicals, animal handling, protection against biological risks, and welfare and accommodation facilities.

Radiation Protection Convention, 1960 (No. 115)
The objective of the Convention is to set out basic requirements with a view to protect workers against the risks associated with exposure to ionising radiations. Protective measures to be taken include the limitation of workers’ exposure to ionising radiations to the lowest practicable level following the technical knowledge available at the time, avoiding any unnecessary exposure, as well as the monitoring of the workplace and of the workers’ health. The Convention further refers to requirements with regard to emergency situations that may arise.

Occupational Cancer Convention, 1974 (No. 139)  
This instrument aims at the establishment of a mechanism for the creation of a policy to prevent the risks of occupational cancer caused by exposure, generally over a prolonged period, to chemical and physical agents of various types present in the workplace. For this purpose, states are obliged to determine periodically carcinogenic substances and agents to which occupational exposure shall be prohibited or regulated, to make every effort to replace these substances and agents by non- or less carcinogenic ones, to prescribe protective and supervisory measures as well as to prescribe the necessary medical examinations of workers exposed.

Working Environment (Air Pollution, Noise and Vibration) Convention, 1977 (No. 148)

The convention provides that, as far as possible, the working environment shall be kept free from any hazards due to air pollution, noise or vibration. To achieve this, technical measures shall be applied to enterprises or processes, and where this is not possible, supplementary measures regarding the organization of work shall be taken instead.

Asbestos Convention, 1986 (No. 162)  
Aims at preventing the harmful effects of exposure to asbestos on the health of workers by indicating reasonable and practicable methods and techniques of reducing occupational exposure to asbestos to a minimum. With a view to achieving this objective, the convention enumerates various detailed measures, which are based essentially on the prevention and control of health hazards due to occupational exposure to asbestos, and the protection of workers against these hazards.

Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170)  
The Convention provides for the adoption and implementation of a coherent policy on safety in the use of chemicals at work, which includes the production, the handling, the storage, and the transport of chemicals as well as the disposal and treatment of waste chemicals, the release of chemicals resulting from work activities, and the maintenance, repair and cleaning of equipment and containers of chemicals. In addition, it allocates specific responsibilities to suppliers and exporting states.

Codes of Practice

ILO Codes of Practice set out practical guidelines for public authorities, employers, workers, enterprises, and specialized occupational safety and health protection bodies (such as enterprise safety committees). They are not legally binding instruments and are not intended to replace the provisions of national laws or regulations, or accepted standards. Codes of Practice provide guidance on safety and health at work in certain economic sectors (e.g. construction, opencast mines, coal mines, iron and steel industries, non-ferrous metals industries, agriculture, shipbuilding and ship repairing, forestry), on protecting workers against certain hazards (e.g. radiation, lasers, visual display units, chemicals, asbestos, airborne substances), and on certain safety and health measures (e.g. occupational safety and health management systems; ethical guidelines for workers’ health surveillance; recording and notification of occupational accidents and diseases; protection of workers’ personal data; safety, health and working conditions in the transfer of technology to developing countries).

Employees Beware…

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