Safety and health at work

A safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental right for every worker

On the occasion of World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2023, ILO Country Office Director for China and Mongolia Changhee Lee, reaffirms safety and health is a fundamental principle and right at work that governments and employers of all countries must take responsibility for providing a safe and healthy working environment for all workers.

文章 | 2023年4月28日
It’s now ten years since the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. That fateful day, at least 1,132 people – mainly female garment workers – were killed and more than 2,500 injured. The disaster seized global attention and led to a global campaign to prevent such tragic incidents. Yet such fatal accidents, big or small, happen in workplaces across the world every day.

In fact, some 2.9 million women and men around the world succumb to work-related accidents or diseases every year; that’s over 8,000 deaths every single day, and at least 402 million people suffer from non-fatal occupational injuries. The toll is enormous in terms of personal tragedy and hardship. And it comes with huge economic loss. It is estimated that occupational accidents and diseases lead to a 5.4 per cent loss of annual global GDP.

Safety and health at work concerns every one of us. Every accident at work and every occupational disease can be prevented. Prevention is the key. Since 2004, the ILO and its Chinese tripartite constituents have been organizing commemoration events on April 28, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, to build awareness of every enterprise and worker on the importance of building a safe and healthy working environment at every workplace.

A safe and healthy working environment is so important that in June 2022 the International Labour Organization took a historic step when it added a safe and healthy working environment to its Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Why does this matter?

It matters because occupational safety and health can now no longer be viewed as an optional extra. All of ILO’s 186 member states are now obligated to respect, promote and achieve a safe and healthy working environment as a fundamental principle and right at work, irrespective of whether they have ratified either of the ILO’s conventions relating to occupational safety and health.

This is significant for several reasons. First and foremost, it recognizes that every worker has the right to be protected from hazards and risks that can cause injury, illness, or death in the workplace.

By making occupational safety and health (OSH) a fundamental right, the ILO is sending a clear message to governments and employers of all countries that they must take responsibility for providing a safe and healthy working environment for all workers.

When workers feel safe and healthy in their workplace, they are more likely to be productive and efficient. This can benefit workers, employers as well as the wider economy. Conversely, when workers are injured or become ill due to workplace hazards, it can have a significant negative impact on productivity and economic growth.

In China, progress on OSH is being made on many fronts. China has ratified six OSH-related international labour conventions, including the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), which has become a fundamental Convention in 2022. China has made remarkable progress on OSH in the last two decades. Between 2005 and 2021, total workplace fatalities declined by 83%, and those in the coal mining sector were down by 98%. It shows what can be achieved when there is a strong commitment by government and social partners.

For OSH to become a daily reality for all workers, it must be addressed alongside ILO’s other Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. These relate to the right to organize and collective bargaining, the elimination of forced and child labour as well as ending discrimination in the world of work. These fundamental principles and rights at work are an important part of the labour provisions in most of the free trade agreements concluded in recent years, such as the CPTPP.

The participation of both employers and workers through social dialogue and workplace cooperation is vital if a sound culture of prevention in OSH is to be created. Trade unions have an important role to play in this regard, helping voice concerns of workers as well as training them in OSH basics. Meanwhile, enterprise level OSH committees allow workers and employers to jointly address safety and health issues.

A safe and healthy working environment is now a fundamental right for each and every worker. Governments, employers, trade unions as well as companies at every level of the supply chain must work together to make this right a reality.

We can do so through shared commitment, joint efforts and by taking a holistic approach. One which recognises and promotes all fundamental workers’ rights and helps deliver social justice and decent work for all.

This op-ed is published on ChinaDaily at: A safe, healthy workplace vital for workers