World Day for Safety and Health at Work

Video message by ILO Director-General Guy Ryder

Statement | 28 April 2013

Director-General Guy Ryder’s message on World Day for Safety and Health at Work

“The prevention of occupational diseases”


On this World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we are focusing on the largely hidden epidemic of occupational disease.

The ILO estimates that 2.34 million workers die each year from work-related accidents and diseases, with diseases accounting for most of these deaths – just over 2.02 million annually, or 5,500 each and every day.

In addition, there are some 160 million cases of non-fatal work-related diseases each year. Certain well-known diseases, such as pneumoconioses, remain widespread, while relatively new ones, such as mental and musculoskeletal disorders, are on the rise.

The human cost is obvious. The ultimate cost is life itself and we know well that certain jobs come with a very high risk of premature death. This cannot be the basis for growth, for development or for a sustainable enterprise strategy nor as the basis for decent work.

Occupational disease impoverishes workers and their families and may undermine whole communities when they lose their most productive workers. Meanwhile, the productivity of enterprises is reduced and the financial burden on the State increases as the cost burden of health care rises. Where social protection is weak or absent, many workers as well as their families, lack the care and support they need.

Yet we know that the situation can be changed and it is time to act with a new sense of urgency.

There are some encouraging signs that Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) issues are gaining ground – one example being a growing interest in the ratification of OSH international labour standards. Experience shows that prevention works and the prevention is more effective and less costly than treatment and rehabilitation. We can draw on experience for the building blocks of effective strategies.

A fundamental step is to recognize the framework provided by the ILO’s international labour standards for the effective preventative action and promoting their ratification and implementation.

To move forward it is necessary:

First, to close the data gap, because knowledge is the key to prevention. Yet, globally, the statistical record is weak and more than half of all countries still do not collect adequate statistics on occupational diseases;

Second, adopt a “paradigm of prevention” with comprehensive and coherent action targeting occupational diseases, not only injuries;

Third, put occupational disease on the radar nationally and internationally through systematic awareness raising activities;

Fourth, strengthening national health surveillance systems, diagnostic and compensation schemes, recording and notification systems and improving working conditions through preventive and control measures;

Fifth, reinforcing national OSH systems, as well as labour inspectorates that can collaborate effectively with other national institutions, professional bodies and employers’ and workers’ organizations;

Sixth, recognizing the role of workers’ and employers’ organizations and social dialogue in developing a strong preventative safety and health culture;

And last but not least, making informal economy workers a specific target for preventative action.

OSH is an area where good practices in different contexts could be shared and one that could also be given higher priority in international cooperation.

Significantly reducing the incidence of occupational disease is not simple, it may not be easy and it will not happen overnight, but progress is certainly possible. So let us, in our respective areas of responsibility, set clear goals, establish a road map and most critically, act and persevere so that, together, we can succeed in turning the tide on the epidemic and make good progress on this dimension of decent work.