Occupational Safety and Health

Decent work must be safe work

Statement of Tim De Meyer, Director of ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia on the explosions in China's Tianjin port area

Statement | Beijing, China | 14 August 2015
It is with great sadness that the ILO has learned about the loss of life caused by the explosion of a reported chemical storage facility in the port of Tianjin on 12 August 2015. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the citizens, workers and rescuers killed or injured in the accident and to their families.

Major industrial accidents unfortunately do happen, sparing neither developed nor developing countries. In 1976, the highly carcinogenic chemical dioxin was accidentally released from a chemical plant in Seveso (Italy), exposing thousands of people, forcing the mass slaughtering of livestock and generating massive costs to clean up the environment. In 1984, a pesticide plant in Bhopal (India) accidentally released highly toxic gas, killing at least 4,000 people, injuring many more and severely contaminating the environment.

The world has drawn the lesson that these tragic accidents must and can be prevented. In 1993, the ILO adopted pertinent policy standards in the Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents Convention (No. 174) and Recommendation (No. 181). The standards call for setting up administrative, legal and technical systems for the control of major hazard installations. They seek to protect workers, the public and the environment by preventing major accidents from occurring at these installations and minimizing the risks and effects of a major accident on site and off site, for example by arranging appropriate separation between major hazard installations and housing and other centers of population nearby such as hospitals, schools and shops. The standards articulate duties of employers in identifying, notifying and reporting on major hazard installations (such as the storage of explosives), complemented by rights and duties of workers and their representatives. Authorities must regularly update their plans and procedures for off-site emergency preparedness.

Decent work must be safe work. China ratified the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155) in 2007 and the Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170) in 1995. The ILO is confident that the root causes of the Tianjin accident will be thoroughly investigated and inspire a review of policies on major hazard control in China. The ILO stands ready to provide its relentless support in this process.