Join in building a culture of prevention on OSH

Speech of Tim De Meyer, Director of ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia, at the ILO/SAWS Commemoration of World Day for Safety and Health and the Seminar on Preventative Safety Inspection

Statement | Beijing, China | 28 April 2015
Every year on 28 April, the ILO marks World Safety and Health Day. Among its trade unions, the day is known as the International Workers’ Memorial Day. It is a day “to remember the dead and fight for the living”: we commemorate the millions of workers who put their life, safety and health on the line to give all of us a better life and, perhaps even more importantly, to remind ourselves that most workplace incidents and ill health are preventable.According to the ILO estimates, every year over 2.3 million women and men die at work from an occupational injury or disease. These estimates imply that every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease and 153 workers have a work-related accident. According to WHO estimates, one person dies as the result of asbestos every five minutes. Every minute, someone dies from occupational cancer or from exposure to hazardous substances.

The theme of the world day of safety and health this year is building a preventative culture on safety and health. It is a mark of significant progress that prevention is taking an increasingly prominent place in the China’s workplace safety and health policies based on the rule of law. The principle of prevention through continuous hazard identification, risk assessment and control has been highlighted in both the amended Work Safety Law of China which came into force last December and the Notice on Improving Work Safety Inspection released by the State Council this month.

The guideline jointly issued on 8 April by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the State Council identified improved safety and health as one of a handful of focus areas critical to harmonious labour relations. The guidelines specifically called on the government to strengthen supervision and on employers to invest more in work safety training, improved working conditions and personal protective equipment.

China is likely to continue to face major OSH challenges as the country industrial and urban landscape is transforming. High-risk industries such as mining and chemical production still constitute a large proportion in the national economic structure. Meanwhile, sectors like transport and fisheries face under-recognised risks, and new industries like microelectronics and nanotechnology present proven and potentially new risks. The large scale migration between rural and urban areas, the ageing of the workforce, and the increasing numbers of workers in temporary, casual, or informal employment not only increase these workers’ disposition to accept unsafe working conditions but also make them less visible to adequate health surveillance, all of which are required for the effective implementation of preventive strategies.

There are several aspects that I want to highlight for building the prevention culture:
  • The preventive role of OSH inspection is essential in building a preventative OSH culture. Enforcement and sanctions are indispensable components of any labour inspection system, but they must be used judiciously. Enforcement is one means of pursuing a far bigger goal: a collective attitude pervading all business operations that accidents, injuries and diseases are preventable and as such are not a price worth paying for any business.
  • Social dialogue on OSH through bipartite workplace cooperation bodies, national OSH tripartite councils and collective agreements. It is important that the law support workers’ rights to fully participate in health and safety decisions via worker representatives and workers’ representation on Joint health and safety committees, with worker representatives allowed paid time off for training and to undertake their union safety functions.
  • Role of employers (prevention pays): The principle of unequivocal employer responsibility has been highlighted in the amended Work Safety Law. In fact, good safety and health is good business. Providing safe and healthy working conditions actually makes enterprises more productive.
  • Workers’ participation on OSH: Workers’ cooperation and participation in building a culture of prevention on occupational safety and health is vital both at national and workplace level.
  • The importance of recording and notification systems and data analysis: High quality data on work-related accidents and diseases are essential for designing an effective prevention strategy and prioritizing attention and resources. Invaluable lessons are to be learnt not only from fatal accidents, but even more from accidents causing no or non-fatal accidents.
  • New paradigm of prevention to pay more attention to occupational health: Across the world, occupational and work-related diseases are “silent killers”: they remain largely invisible in comparison to occupational accidents, but kill almost six times more workers than occupational accidents. 
China has been working hard on developing a work safety inspection mechanism which focuses on developing a sound prevention and control system. The ILO stands ready to work with you in this area. To buttress national efforts on building a preventative OSH culture and a preventative OSH inspection, I would encourage you to consider ratifying the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, (No. 187), 2006.

Premier Li Keqiang recently stressed that “the life of people is the most precious of all. Resolute measures must be taken to strengthen work safety in all aspects”. Preventing accidents, injuries and diseases is an employer liability but a collective responsibility. We can do it, together.