This story was written by the ILO Newsroom For official ILO statements and speeches, please visit our “Statements and Speeches” section.

95th session of the International Labour Conference, 2006
Unsafe workplaces: Labour inspectors face daunting challenges

Many of the 6,000 deaths that occur daily due to work-related accidents or diseases could be prevented by effective labour inspection. Yet this vital aspect of workplace safety and health is facing a number of challenges, including a lack of training, inappropriate resources and even violence.

Article | 14 June 2006

Many of the 6,000 deaths that occur daily due to work-related accidents or diseases could be prevented by effective labour inspection. Yet this vital aspect of workplace safety and health is facing a number of challenges, including a lack of training, inappropriate resources and even violence. ILO Online spoke with labour inspection expert Gerd Albracht and senior legal specialist Ms. Halima Sahraoui about labour inspection issues, the application of relevant Conventions and the General Survey to be discussed at this year's International Labour Conference.

ILO online: What challenges does the field of labour inspection face today?

Gerd Albracht: The fundamental changes in the world of work, such as fragmentation of the labour market, a growing foreign and migrant labour force, the rise in deregulation and privatization and the increase in atypical working arrangements, have had a considerable impact on the concept of labour protection. There's no question about the need for increased protection of workers - and a properly resourced, informed and impartial labour inspectorate which is able to fulfill its duties and adapt to changes. A comprehensive occupational safety and health strategy, including the implementation of an Integrated Labour Inspection System (ILIS), can help to address these issues.

ILO online: What is an Integrated Labour Inspection System?

Gerd Albracht: The main focus of an ILIS is to integrate administrative, procedural and technical elements into a holistic, coherent and flexible approach to labour inspection: from the global policy level down to the operational level in the enterprise where the quantity and quality of inspections can be significantly improved. In essence, an ILIS is used to raise worldwide awareness of the social dimension of the workplace, in addition to the economic, financial and environmental aspects. The implementation of core labour standards and the laws and regulations that give effect to them at the national level can be significantly enhanced if the capacities and quality of national labour inspectorates are strengthened.

ILO online: What role can labour inspectors play in this integrated strategy?

Gerd Albracht: Labour inspectors and the social partners play a crucial role because they are the only ones with direct access to these workplaces and therefore can impose changes to improve labour conditions. Labour inspectorates can help employers by ensuring that their workplaces are compliant with safety rules and regulations, as well as informing them about potential workplace hazards. In addition, labour inspectorates provide governments with guidance in promoting safety and health at work based on a ten-step plan, which includes such things as structure and organization, resource allocation, training, setting priorities, integrating inspections, publicizing best practices and providing tools for management systems and labour inspectors.

ILO online: Does labour inspection pay?

Gerd Albracht: In an increasingly global economy, social needs are often placed behind economic needs. But it's important to remember that economic performance also depends largely on a healthy and productive workforce. The 4 per cent loss in the world's GDP resulting from the cost of death and illness in the workforce represents 20 times the total amount spent on official development assistance worldwide. This shows that the development of ILIS and occupational safety and health standards at work are not only a moral obligation, but also contribute to an improved economic performance.

ILO online: What is the importance of ILO Convention No. 81?

Halima Sahraoui: The Labour Inspection Convention, No. 81 (1947) assigns three basic missions to labour inspectors: ensuring that labour legislation is applied, advising employers and workers on the most effective means of achieving that aim and drawing the authorities' attention to abuses or shortcomings not currently covered by law. With 135 ratifications, Convention No. 81 remains one of the most ratified Conventions of the ILO.

Conventions No.81 and No.129, Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, (1969), set out general principles and provide the essential and universal framework for the status, structures and function of labour inspection. It is the responsibility of the competent authority in each country, in consultation with the social partners, to define the needs and determine priorities for action.

ILO online: Ms. Halima Sahraoui, you are responsible for the General Survey on labour inspection to be discussed at this year's International Labour Conference. What are its major findings?

Halima Sahraoui: The General Survey on labour inspection carried out by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations has gained significant support by governments and social partners. The report, which was debated for adoption at this year's Conference, offers a comprehensive description of labour inspection systems worldwide, including resources, powers and obligations of labour inspectors; inspection visits; mandates; and practice. As a result, representatives have clearly expressed their demand for the ILO to take a leading role in strengthening labour inspection around the world.

One priority, the report points out, is to ensure the allocation of resources to effectively overcome structural weaknesses, predominantly in transition and developing countries. These funds are necessary for enhancing technical cooperation to increase the sustainability and efficiency of labour inspectors' work. Furthermore, labour inspection needs to concentrate on its core functions, such as comprehensive supervision through intensified control of enterprises, discovering and eliminating risks and enhancing the dissemination of relevant advice and information.

The need for a coherent policy on labour inspection as well as appropriate training, fair remuneration and other conditions of service for labour inspectors has been emphasized. Another core element to be addressed is capacity building in terms of the qualitative and quantitative improvement of labour inspection with the support of social partners to help make the concept of decent work a reality.

All delegates have pointed out the importance of promotion campaigns for increased ratification and compliance with labour inspection Conventions, especially Convention No. 129. This Convention has yet been ratified by 43 member States and has reached a consensus on recognizing the preventive function of labour inspection as well as the need for strengthening and expanding it at national and international levels.