Taking control – removing dangerous substances from the workplace

Every 11 seconds a person loses their life because of lethal working conditions. While awareness is growing, cancer remains the number one workplace killer in many countries. On this International Workers’ Memorial Day, the ITUC is calling for zero cancer.

“We call it making a living, yet working people continue to be exposed to lethal substances. Today we pay our respects to those who paid the ultimate price at work. In their memory we continue to fight for the living,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

While there is a delay between exposure to dangerous substances and the diagnosis of cancer, research sheds increasing light on the link between cancer and its workplace causes. The ITUC, together with Hazards campaign, has produced an at-a-glance guide that summarises the most prominent cancer hazards at work.

“Unions make work safer. People are best placed to know where dangers lie in their workplaces and it is through their collective understanding and action that lasting health and safety improvements are made. We are pushing for ever-safer conditions, from the workplace right up to the level of international standards at the International Labour Organization. It is fundamental to guarantee safety and health at work. The ILO’s Centenary Declaration is a real opportunity for meaningful progress that could save millions of lives. It must not be missed,” said Burrow.

This was echoed by Mr. Baskut Tuncak, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. He said that the international community must “look at the opportunities that we have at present to eliminate some of the double standards that exist between countries that are being exploited by unscrupulous businesses, through their supply chains.” Commenting on the need to reinforce international safeties, he said, “global instruments only ban or restrict the use or emission of less than 0.1% of toxic industrial chemicals and pesticides of global concern to which workers and communities are exposed.”

New chemicals are entering workplaces all the time, very few of which have been comprehensively assessed for carcinogenicity. Improved standards for testing are needed in order to avoid more deaths. The ILO is the leading institution for securing better standards for millions of people around the world. The ITUC is calling on employers and governments to live up to this mandate and accept the fundamental nature of organisational safety and health at the ILO Centenary Conference in June 2019.

Trade unions around the world are mobilising today to pay respects and push for better safety and health conditions at work, follow the latest on 28April.org.

For an update on Special Reporter Tuncak’s work, including the draft Principles on the rights of workers and protection from exposure to toxic and otherwise hazardous substances, see here.

Poster - Chemical Reaction
Infographic - Cancers and their work causes