UN calls for stronger protections for workers exposed to toxic substances

photo: Adam Cohn via Flickr CC: Shipbreaker in mask

The ITUC has welcomed the adoption by the United Nations Human Rights Council of a resolution backing stronger protections for workers exposed to toxic substances. Every 11 seconds a person loses their life because of lethal working conditions, and many of the deaths and serious non-fatal diseases are caused by chemicals.

“Every worker must be protected from toxic chemicals. Yet for firefighters, hairdressers, manufacturing workers and people working in many other occupations, the risk of cancer and other work-related diseases caused by toxic products is real, and it is costing lives. We salute the work done by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, and welcome this important UN decision,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

According to Tuncak, “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”.

The ILO Centenary Declaration, adopted last June, sets out a labour protection floor which guarantees all workers respect for fundamental rights, adequate minimum wages, maximum limits on working hours and safety and health at work. The Declaration also calls upon the ILO to elevate occupational health and safety into the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work. The labour movement is fully committed to achieving this goal urgently and welcomes the echoing of a previous call by UN experts for the ILO to move forward with this.

“We know what is needed for safe working environments to ensure that people can lead a healthy life. We need the institutions whose role it is to protect people to recognise just how fundamental this is. The time has come to drive forward solutions for a world of work with zero cancer, and that means proper regulation including of the corporations which make so much profit from products that result in human misery. The right to health does not stop at the factory gate or the office door,” said Burrow.

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