REDUCING RISK: A safe working place can work wonders for everyone
WORLD Day for Safety and Health at Work (WDSHW) is observed on April 28 each year.
The observance of WDSHW, a joint initiative of the International Labour Organisation and the World Health Organisation, is aimed at promoting a global preventative safety and health culture involving governments, employers' and workers' organisations, businesses, relevant institutions and non-governmental organisation, and safety and health practitioners.
WDSHW focuses on the promotion of occupational safety and health (OSH) to shift to a greener and more sustainable economy.
Efforts to develop green economies reflect how the world's concern about climate change is affecting the way technology is used in industries.
As a result, innovation across the spectrum of industries is introducing green-oriented strategies to meet the clamour for environmentally-friendly products, services and jobs.
As the green economy develops, it is essential that safety and health at work is integrated into green jobs policies.
It implies integrating risk assessment and management measures in the life cycle analysis of all green jobs.
A true green job must integrate safety and health into design, procurement, operations, maintenance, sourcing and recycling policies, certification systems and OSH quality standards.
This is especially relevant in sectors such as construction, energy, pharmaceutical, chemical, extractive, agro-industry, food and beverage, recycling and biomass processing.
ILO reports that, of the more than two million deaths each year because of unsafe and unhealthy work environments, in the construction industry, at least 60,000 fatal workplace accidents occur annually worldwide, or about one death every 10 minutes. About 17 per cent of all fatal workplace accidents occur in this sector.
Construction workers also face a number of health risks, including exposure to asbestos-laden dusts, silica and hazardous chemicals. In many countries, deaths from occupational disease, notably asbestosis, is on the rise. Globally, asbestos is responsible for 100,000 occupational deaths per year.
In the agricultural sector, the use of pesticides causes more than 70,000 poisoning deaths each year, and at least seven million cases of acute and long-term non-fatal illnesses.
The most common workplace illnesses are cancers from exposure to hazardous substances, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, hearing loss, circulatory diseases, communicable diseases caused by exposure to pathogens, musculoskeletal and reproductive disorders, mental and neurological illnesses
Given the serious and costly human, social and economic consequences of this situation, ILO and WHO have urged governments to create ethically-correct and economically-sound measures to improve working conditions.
Although the cost of work-related injury and death is incalculable in terms of human suffering, their economic costs are colossal at the enterprise, national and global levels.
When taking into account compensation, lost working time, interruption of production, training and retraining, medical expenses and social assistance, these losses, the ILO said, amounted annually to almost five per cent of the global gross national product.
Because of the increasing pace of industrialisation in emerging and developing economies, the number of work-related accidents and illnesses is rising.
For example, to reduce costs, industries with their accompanying occupational hazards are being relocated to developing countries, home to 75 per cent of the global workforce.
Consequently, what is an economic blessing today may lead to considerable deterioration in the health status of working populations of the developing world tomorrow.
In Malaysia, the government has paid increasing attention to workers' safety and health issues. The Department of Occupational Safety and Health, under the Human Resources Ministry ensures that the safety, health and welfare of workers in the public and private sectors are upheld.
The department provides guidance and advice on the implementation of safe and healthy working systems and ensures that managers, supervisors and employees receive safety training and employers comply with the regulations and standards of the Factories and Machinery Act 1967 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994.
There is a need to build improved capacity to better understand and develop responses to risk factors relating to physical, ergonomic, chemical, psychosocial and biological accidents and health effects and to make such information widely available.
Ratifying and bringing national policies and legislation in conformity with ILO international standards on OSH and, more importantly, promoting greater awareness among stakeholders and developing enforcement mechanisms in addressing safety and health issues in the working environment can reduce work-related accidents and ill health and disease.
WDSHW, while focusing international attention on emerging trends in OSH and on the magnitude of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities worldwide, brings a new dimension to OSH as an integral part of the promotion of green jobs and a greener economy to achieve economic and social development.