“Remember the dead and fight for the living” is the slogan for International Workers’ Memorial Day – commemorated every year on 28th April.
It is a day set aside to commemorate workers who have died or been injured at work. Trade unions will hold events around the world to highlight the role played by collective action in protecting workers from work-related accidents and disease.
Global occupational safety and health (OSH) statistics are always disturbing – and for every statistic there is a worker, including 37 million children.
The ITUC International Workers’ Memorial Day website and briefing state that, “More than 2.5 million workers lost their lives to workplace injuries and illness in 2017, with many more deaths going unrecorded.”
Occupational diseases, with specific reference to occupational related cancers, are responsible for a large proportion of deaths, with more than 10% of cancer cases a result of exposure to hazards in the workplace.
In terms of child labour - which accounts for 15% of the world’s labour force - the rate of non-fatal occupational injuries is 40% higher than adult workers older than 25.
Agriculture is one of the most hazardous sectors. Contributing to the eye-watering statistics are accidents involving machinery such as tractors, trucks, harvesters, and cutting and piercing tools, as well as exposure to hazardous and carcinogenic substances including pesticides and fertilisers, toxic or allergenic agents and transmissible animal diseases.
There are solutions
Safe and healthy workplaces require robust national regulation, enforcement, continuous improvement through formal OSH arrangements and organised workers with a say in the operations of their workplace – exercising their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
The ILO plays an important role in promoting this agenda. Under the banner of SafeDay, it observes and promotes the World Day on Safety and Health at Work. This builds on strong social dialogue in the world of work and promotes a culture of prevention around occupational safety and health.
Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, NEVER AGAIN has given the ILO’s Better Work programme impetus, enhancing safety in factories so that Bangladeshi workers never again experience a tragedy like the Rana Plaza collapse.
Union workplaces are safer work places
Unionisation is one of the most important factors contributing to safe and healthy workplaces.
A UK report, “The Union Effect”, demonstrates the impact of workplace trades union health and safety representatives.
Two key outcomes of the extensive research show that:
- Workplaces with an active union safety system had an injury rate half that of workplaces without these systems.
- The proportion of employees who are trade union members has a positive and significant association with both injury and illness rates.
Not taken for granted
It may be stating the obvious, but working in a safe environment and being able to return home to family and friends at the end of the day shouldn’t be aspirational.
Yet for too many workers around the globe, going to work is still one of the most dangerous things they will ever have to do.