In the last few years, many countries – as varied as Mauritius, Vietnam and Mexico – have taken measures to strengthen their national OSH strategies and systems with new legal frameworks, monitoring mechanisms and a modern approach to hazard assessment and workplace management. In many cases, they were guided by the recommendations of the International Labour Organization.
Seiji Machida of the ILO kicked off by explaining the background. In 2003, the International Labour Conference analysed the ILO’s standards and activities in the occupational safety and health sector and drafted a Global Strategy. The core of this strategy is the development of national legislation and programmes by governments in consultation with the social partners.
In many countries, much progress has been made in the establishment of the legal framework. This applies, for example, to mental illness, risk management, the convening of safety committees and the appointment of safety officers. When laws are passed, compliance is of course essential. No effort would be spared in this respect from now on, he stressed. Since 2007, Convention No. 187 has been ratified by 31 countries – most recently by Argentina, Albania, Slovenia, Turkey and Vietnam.
According to Machida, national implementation activities should encompass the extension of training, information and advisory activities as well as an appraisal of the legislation in order to provide comprehensive legal protection, strengthen OSH management and support all its system components. Machida repeatedly drew attention to the importance of sufficient data. Data were a central element of strategy development, he continued, as well as the reviewing of existing measures and decisions. There was room for improvement, he felt, in the field of occupational diseases.
To what extent has this strategy been implemented in different regions of the world? Let us first take the example of Mauritius. Since setting up an Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate in 1981, Mauritius has made continuous progress in creating the best possible working environment for all of its employees, as Seetuldeo Balgobin of the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment in Mauritius explained.
OSH legislation creates a binding regulatory framework and many legal arrangements have an accompanying function, he continued. Employers with over 50 employees therefore have to disclose their safety and health strategy. Employees who criticize OSH shortcomings will not be penalized. Conventions Nos. 155 and 187 have been ratified in the meantime, with No. 161 soon to follow, Balgobin reported. In the coming five years, a statistics department will be established so that, among other things, days lost due to work-related accidents can be logged. There are also moves to initiate medical programmes and university training courses in OSH. Other projects include the expansion of research, measurement capability and campaigns to establish a prevention culture. With measures like these, Mauritius aims to enforce safety and health at work as a fundamental human right.
A look at the situation in Mexico is no less exciting. This is where numerous measures have been taken in the last seven years to prevent risks and guarantee employee rights so that they can take action to preserve their lives and health, as José Adán Ignacio Rubí Salazar of the Secretaría del Trabajo y Previsión Social in Mexico outlined.
In the OSH sector, Salazar listed a number of remaining key problems and explained how attempts were being made to resolve them. He first mentioned the lack of prevention culture. There are plans to intervene at school level and special guidance documents have been written. This way, the message can be communicated to 25 million children, Salazar reported. To supply employers with all the necessary information, the government is using all modern media, has introduced a newsletter and offers e-learning programs. The high accident rate is being countered among other things with special software to identify the OSH situation in companies, and a self-management program has also been developed.
New OSH centres have been founded to improve training in occupational safety and health, Salazar said. Regulations and sanctions have been introduced to prevent companies from flouting the law. To curb child labour, the minimum age will be raised in the course of this year as part of planned legislation, Salazar announced. To remedy the lack of regulation in high-risk areas such as construction and mining, new standards would be issued. In cooperation with the ILO, a well-being programme is to be implemented. Gender equality and the curbing of child labour also pursued the goal of promoting well-being. In many cases, companies are commended for their strong commitment to OSH. To alleviate deficiencies in the supervisory structure, numerous new inspectors have been recruited, and a special surveillance programme has been established to combat corruption in this area.
The situation in Vietnam is different, as delineated by Do Thi Thuy Nguyet of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, in her report. Numerous ILO rules have already been introduced and comprehensively implemented. The national programme until 2015 envisages cutting the accident rate by 5 per cent per year and reducing the incidence of occupational diseases by a factor of 10. Furthermore, regular examinations are envisaged for exposed workers, and there are also moves to introduce an OSH management system. Further investment has been earmarked for training and for healthcare and rehabilitation. Thankfully, OSH in Vietnam has many state agencies as well as trade union partners. The ratification of the ILO conventions was clear evidence of the government’s commitment to occupational safety and health, Vietnam’s ministry official explained.
Finally, we turn our attention to Turkey with a report from Kasim Özer of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. Turkey’s OSH goals are defined by the National Occupational Health and Safety Policy Document II that has been drawn up by the National Occupational Health and Safety Council (NOHSC).
From 2009 to 2013, Turkey was mainly intent on implementing and enforcing health and safety law. Beyond this, Özer explained, the government had set itself the goal of reducing the rate of accidents and occupational diseases by 20 per cent.
As a consequence of this, the document was finally enacted after five years of discussion. During the discussion phase, 40,000 people in 81 towns and cities were briefed on the planned legislation. Associated with the law are 36 ordinances and rules for their application. While existing laws had only applied to a small number of employees, all employees were now covered by the new law, Özer stressed. In addition, the number of work-related accidents per year has been reduced by 25 per cent, but not the number of instances of occupational diseases. This goal remains to be achieved. Further laboratories have also been established, he said.
The goals until 2018 include the setting-up of OSH bureaus throughout the country. In addition, Özer continued, there are plans to improve the activities and services of these bureaus and expand statistics and reporting so as to obtain sufficient data for the development of future strategies. Efforts will continue to be made to reduce the accident rate particularly in high-risk areas such as construction and mining. Improvements, he claimed, were also necessary in the recognition of occupational diseases. In addition to redoubling activities for the public sector and agriculture, the establishment of a widespread comprehensive prevention culture was urgently necessary, said Özer at the end of his review.
Text: Norbert Ulitzka