A comprehensive prevention culture with a global reach – this was the central message of the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 World Congress. International guests from politics, business and social organizations witnessed an inspiring beginning of a new era in prevention.
“We are very happy and proud to be able to welcome roughly 4,000 experts from 141 countries here in Frankfurt.” These were the words with which Congress President Dr Walter Eichendorf opened the XX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2014 in Frankfurt am Main. No previous Congress had attracted representatives of so many countries. The next three days of the Congress, Eichendorf pledged, offered a chance to discuss together the most pressing problems in occupational safety and health and learn about solutions from all over the world. Numerous Plenary Sessions, 30 Symposia, a Special Media Session for visual productions and the novel Forum for Prevention with over 200 presentations would enable participants to experience new prevention strategies that they could use in their own work in their home countries. The goal must be to develop a global prevention culture that gives safety at work top priority. An interactive action stage on the Congress grounds, an accompanying trade fair and exhibition with 250 exhibitors plus numerous Technical Tours to world-renowned companies in the Frankfurt area would also generate plenty of inspiration for a further intensification of safety and health at work.
Guy Ryder: Higher profile for safety and health at work
Guy Ryder is the first Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to participate in a World Congress on Safety and Health at Work. “For me it is absolutely necessary to be here,” said Ryder in his Welcome Address. According to figures of the ILO, well over two million people worldwide die each year as a result of accidents at work and work-related diseases – more than in all wars put together. Any yet the subject is given too little prominence in the media, he claimed, while it is individual tragedies that capture the attention. “This is a deplorable state of affairs,” Ryder commented. He exhorted the experts present to make Vision Zero reality – a goal that can only be achieved with a “common culture of intolerance” towards accidents at work and work-related diseases, Ryder concluded.
Errol Frank Stoové: A new era in prevention
The President of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), Errol Frank Stoové, recalled that this World Congress is celebrating an anniversary in that this is the 20th staging of the event since it was launched by the ISSA in Rome in 1955, almost 60 years ago. Publicly presenting the Congress today as a global Forum for Prevention conveys the will to establish and promote a global prevention culture on the basis of a modern, holistic prevention approach, Stoové explained. He was confident that a new era in prevention would be heralded by the XX World Congress 2014.
Alexander Gunkel and Wellington Chibebe: Prevention must be comprehensive
In a round of dialogue, the differing positions of the social partners were presented by Alexander Gunkel, representing the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA), and Wellington Chibebe of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) domiciled in Belgium. To successfully implement prevention in industry, coherent, comprehensible and practicable rules and regulations were indispensable, Gunkel asserted, claiming that smaller businesses were easily overstretched by complicated codes. No company would doubt the benefits of a comprehensive prevention culture, said Gunkel, who insisted that the subject should be taught in schools. Prevention must be practised universally and should not be confined to the workplace, he added. Looking at the situation in Africa, Wellington Chibebe advocated dialogue between the social partners. It was still the case, he stressed, that the maintenance of equipment and machines was given higher priority than the well-being of working people and their families.
Kevin Myers: Preventing personal suffering
Kevin Myers hoped that the 2014 World Congress would be a catalyst that would stimulate passion for a culture of greater safety and health at work worldwide. The President of the International Association of Labour Inspection reminded his audience that, throughout history, safety and health at work had always been a special concern and listed the milestones that had been achieved so far in the field of occupational safety and health worldwide. In Great Britain, for example, the number of fatal accidents at work has fallen over the last 100 years from about 4,500 to the present figure of 133. All the same, he urged his audience not to disregard the personal tragedies of injured workers and surviving family members behind the statistics. “We have the means to end this suffering.” To achieve this goal, every individual has a contribution to make. “Irrespective of the country, industry or sector that we represent, each of us has a part to play – and we must act collectively,” Myers stressed.
Ministerial Round Table: International challenges for occupational safety and health
Attending the opening ceremony were not only experts on safety and health at work but also ministers and senior government officials: for example, the Finnish Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Laura Räty; the Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Manpower in Singapore, Hawazi Daipi; and Xu Shaochuan, Vice-Minister, State Administration of Work Safety from China. In a round of interviews with the presenters Karl-Josef Thielen and Claudia Kleinert, they explained the challenges they are facing in occupational safety and health in their own countries. In China, for example, the situation of migrant workers is still a problem, which the government is now tackling with new laws as well as a programme for which it has earmarked several billions of yens. In Finland, by contrast, the government is seeking strategies for coping with demographic change and for enabling people to remain fit for work longer. Singapore is taking some unusual approaches to improving safety and health at work. The “safety minute”, a one-minute discussion on the topic of occupational safety and health before people start work every day, is intended to raise and maintain awareness of prevention.
Joachim Breuer: We need to get involved.
“Safety and health at work are not an afterthought. They are nothing less than a prerequisite for lasting economic success, social cohesion and political stability.” In his Keynote Speech, Dr Joachim Breuer, Director General of the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV), voiced three demands designed to lend new momentum to prevention: “We who bear responsibility for prevention need to get more involved, we need to develop clear and positive visions, and finally we need to bring together those people who will join us in dedicating themselves to better working conditions.” It is about taking a stand for ensuring that people can achieve their dreams, goals and desires in a safe and healthy way.
And it is also time to finally refute the accusation that prevention constitutes a handicap or hindrance to entrepreneurial activity, Breuer noted. It is often said that prevention creates a bureaucratic monster that fetters the entrepreneurial spirit and destroys the foundations of prosperity. This, says Breuer, is a sham debate in which safety and health are made to serve as a scapegoat for what has gone wrong elsewhere. Anyone wanting to create a new culture of prevention will also need to speak a new language that is understood by one and all. Why talk about safety and health at work when it is really all about the safety and health of working people, the Director General of the DGUV asked.
The theme of safety and health is moreover regarded as a field of conflict between employers and employees, as well as between companies and consumers, Breuer pointed out. But this is not the case. The majority of consumers would like to know that the people who produce their clothing, high-tech devices and the toys their children play with enjoy healthy and safe working conditions. Breuer: “Nobody wants to buy a cell phone with blood on it!” The conflict between business and prevention is therefore in his view an illusion, because it is amply clear to everyone that prevention is the cheaper way in the long run. Prevention benefits practically all sides: businesses, employees, the state, social insurance, the consumer and many other groups in society. That is why it is more important now than ever before to inspire people to commit themselves to safe and healthy working conditions – especially, but not only, here at this Congress.
Text: Norbert Ulitzka, Sanja Zec