ILO: World’s leading experts call for occupational health and safety to be made a fundamental right

photo: ILO

The world’s foremost experts in occupational health and safety have called for the International Labour Organization (ILO) to designate workers’ health and safety as a fundamental right on the eve of a 23 March ILO Governing Body debate on the issue.

Unions are calling for the ILO Conference in June 2021 to elevate health and safety to the highest level of international labour standards, to increase the accountability of governments and employers in saving lives at work and to get more countries to ratify vital health and safety Conventions.

This would fulfil a pledge in the 2019 ILO Centenary Declaration, unanimously adopted by governments, workers and employers, to ensure occupational health and safety for all workers.

Collegium Ramazzini, the premier independent international body of experts on occupational and environmental medicine, has called on the ILO, as a matter of urgency, to implement the decisions of the 2019 International Labour Conference, ideally at the 2021 Conference.

The Collegium Ramazzini said: “Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are harmed each year by their work. Millions more die. This carnage is preventable, but only if the protection of workers from harm is given high priority and worker health and safety is recognized as a fundamental human right. The ILO must act at the earliest opportunity to recognize occupational health and safety as an ILO Fundamental Right at Work.”

Save lives at work

Nick Pahl, CEO of the UK-based Society of Occupational Medicine, the professional body for occupational physicians globally, said: “The Society of Occupational Medicine strongly supports the designation of occupational health and safety as an ILO Fundamental Right at Work. We urge the ILO Governing Body to act expeditiously to progress the decision of the ILO Centenary Conference (session 108) in 2019, with a view to having the designation of occupational health and safety as a Fundamental Right at Work (FRAW) on the agenda of the 2021 International Labour Conference.”

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Governments and employers should listen to these leading experts. For far too long, protecting workers from work injuries and illness has had a lower status than other fundamental rights at work. Some employers and even some governments seem to think that the costs of doing business can be traded off against workers’ lives. Giving health and safety the legal status it deserves will right a historic wrong, and also boost efforts to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.”