Opening remarks at the ILO/SAWS Seminar to Mark the World Day for Safety and Health at Work

By Mr Tim De Meyer, Director, ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia

Statement | Beijing, China | 28 April 2017
Distinguished Vice-Minister Sun Hua Shan of State Administration for Work Safety (SAWS),
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

Good morning. Let me first of all thank the SAWS for the close partnership that has enabled us to organize this significant event together today, for the friendship that is turning this event into a well-established tradition and you, Vice Minister, for the leadership that continues to guide us in deepening our cooperation particularly through the work on SCORE. I’d like to thank my colleagues from Geneva and Bangkok for their generous technical support to our Beijing Office here today – Nancy Leppink, Zhu Changyou, Charles Bodwell and Francisco O’Connor Dos Santos.

I am particularly pleased to share the podium at the opening today with our friends from ACFTU and the CEC. Managing occupational safety and health at workplace level – one of the main themes of our seminar today – is a rather futile undertaking without workers and employers in the drivers’ seat. Their role deserves extra attention at a time when SAWS is promoting the management approach to basic work safety standardization, reinforcing the employers’ duty to maintain safe and healthy environments and take preventive action in cooperation with workers. We also owe the World Day for Safety and Health to the trade union movement. More than 30 years before the ILO declared it an official international day, the American trade union movement organized its first “Workers’ Memorial Day” as day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work, and to continuously remind ourselves that more people are killed at work than by war. All this despite the fact that the great majority of accidents and diseases at the root are perfectly preventable – if we care to take preventative action, that is.

Friends, I suspect you are getting tired of hearing me report year after year that more than 2.3 million people die due to occupational injuries and work-related diseases; that workers suffer approximately 270 million accidents each year, and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of work-related illnesses; that hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos alone claiming 100,000 lives, even if that figure is not free from controversy; and that the toll of death and disability every year shaves 4 per cent off global economic output.

These tedious repetitions are at least partially the result of the fact that we need to further improve our collection, sharing and use of reliable occupational safety and health data. This year, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work takes aim at the critical need for countries to do just that.

I am very pleased to have Mr. Francisco Santos-O'Connor, our newly appointed senior specialist on Occupational Safety and Health in the Decent Work Team in Bangkok with us today. He will enlighten us on the why and the how, but let me just make a couple of key points:
  1. The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted on September 25, 2015 encompasses a global plan of action with specific targets to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. With its adoption, the capacity to collect and utilize reliable OSH data has also become indispensable for countries to fulfill their commitment to implement and report on this 2030 Development Agenda. Sustainable Development Goal 8, in particular, provides for the promotion of “inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” and its Target 8.8 focuses on the “protection of labour rights and promotion of safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.” For Target 8.8 countries are asked to report on the following indicator: “Frequency rates of fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries, by sex and migrant status”.
  2. That brings me to my second point. We cannot overestimate the importance of focusing our data collection efforts on workers in flexible, non-standard forms of employment (90 % of the global workforce in nuclear power plants are contract workers); on the informal economy; and on small and medium size enterprises.
  3. That means, specifically, that we need to maximize information-sharing and joint action between various parts of the labour administration that have different expertise – at the very least SAWS, MoHRSS and the Ministry of Health. That will also ensure that the excellent work done in China on data collection are also reflected in ILO databases.
  4. We need to remind ourselves sometimes more valuable lessons may be learned from accidents that did not happen or did not cause death, pointing to a need for the recording and notification of dangerous occurrences and non-fatal injuries.
China is home to 42 million SMEs, which accounts 10 per cent of the SMEs globally. SMEs make up 60 per cent of China’s national industrial output and create nearly 80 per cent of jobs. Needless to say that China’s SMEs are vital to global supply chains and to the success of efforts to sustain international openness and inclusiveness, including the Belt and Road Initiative.

We all know that SMEs struggle more in their efforts to comply with national labour laws. They have less wherewithal and financial space for investment in critical aspects of accident and disease prevention such as training and information of workers, workers’ health surveillance or risk management. For this, they need to rely on outside expertise, which in turn opens up opportunities for business development services – the second theme of our seminar today.

I am very pleased to have with us Mr Charlie Bodwell, senior enterprise development specialist in our Decent Work Team in Bangkok, to share with us his experience with business development services, particularly as they relate to occupational safety and health in SMEs. As it happens, he is also one of SCORE’s venerable “ancestors”. I am also grateful for the presence of friends and experts from Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines who will the ideas into the context of daily experience for us. As the old Chinese saying goes “tā shān zhīshíkě yǐgōng yù 他山之石可以攻玉” – “the Stone of Other Mountains Can Be Used to Polish One’s Own Jade”.

Friends, I believe that by now I can dispense with the formalities of introducing SCORE to you. SAWS leadership is demonstrating that a methodology designed to improve working conditions and productivity in SMEs can also innovate and deepen reform in the safety inspectorate. Limited resources are forcing inspectorates the world over to take a more strategic and preventive approach towards ensuring compliance by complementing traditional enforcement with enhanced advisory capacity, and by more actively engaging with other stakeholders – most prominently with the stakeholders who know the workplace best, the workforce and with the main duty holders for a safe working environment, employers. All this contributes to a growing recognition among multinational brands that SCORE is a valid methodology to walk the talk of corporate social responsibility and to concretely improve safety performance in their supply chain factories.

Such is definitely also the view of the donors who have steadfastly supported SCORE, the governments of Switzerland and Norway. I am delighted to confirm on their behalf that they will continue to support the SCORE programme in China and in other Asian countries as it is a pragmatic programme to ensure security and safety at work while improving quality and productivity. They are ready to continue the collaboration with China and with the ASEAN if this is requested and wish all the efforts made by participating enterprises could be an example and role model for others to follow.

With this auspicious message, we are very much looking forward to working closely with the Beijing Administration of Work Safety and piloting SCORE Project in ten factories in Fangshan District of China’s capital. I am sure Mr Zhu Changyou, Labour Inspection Officer, ILO Geneva will tell you all this new development this afternoon.

Let me thank all of you for the vital work you do and for the dedication and the professionalism with which you do it. I wish the event today a complete success.