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“We will continue to move forward”: managing risk at work in Kazakhstan

The 18th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Seoul, Republic of Korea, will unveil best practices and examples in promoting effective occupational safety and health (OSH) systems as one of the key factors in sustainable economic growth and development. ILO Online reports from Kazakhstan – a country that pioneered new approaches to occupational safety and health and became a model for other countries of Central Asia.

Article | 17 June 2008

ASTANA, Republic of Kazakhstan (ILO Online) – Kazakhstan’s recent economic transformation has brought a stunning 10 per cent growth, but the country still faces formidable challenges inherited from the Soviet times. An outdated OSH legislation and management system is one of them.

The situation became very acute in the 1990s, when working conditions deteriorated drastically and the annual number of victims of accidents and work-related diseases ran into thousands. It was obvious that a radical upgrading and modernizing of the country’s OSH system was required.

Kazakhstan started with adopting a set of new laws, first a law on OSH, which was later transformed into a labour Code with a chapter on OSH, as well as a law on social partnership.

Kazakhstan has ratified key ILO OSH conventions, such as Convention No. 81 on Labour Inspection and Convention No. 167 on Occupational Safety and Health in Construction, and is considering to ratify the new ILO OSH Framework Convention No. 187 adopted in 2006. To implement the latter, the country is systematically building a modern occupational safety and health system by means of a National OSH programme, following the logical steps described in Convention 187.

The initial step was to prepare a national OSH Profile that contained all basic data related to occupational safety and health: current legislative framework; implementation mechanisms; information and training; enforcement and infrastructure; human and financial resources available, OSH initiatives at the enterprise level, etc.

The profile was developed with support from a project financed by the Republic of Korea covering four Central Asian countries. The project helped these countries, including Kazakhstan, not only to prepare national OSH profiles but to further analyze their conclusions in order to prepare national OSH programmes.

The second phase of the Korean project will assist these countries to draft these national OSH programmes. In Kazakhstan, the ministry of labour and social protection has requested the regions to prepare regional OSH programmes, which will be the base for the updated National OSH Programme from 2008 onwards, replacing the previous programme.

“Kazakhstan is certainly a good example of the systematic and effective implementation of OSH requirements at the national and enterprise level with the full involvement of the social partners, says Wiking Husberg, senior OSH specialist at the ILO Subregional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “Some issues still need to be addressed; but we have an agreement with the trade unions to establish safety committees at the enterprise level. The issue of restrictions on labour inspections, which was pointed out by a recent labour inspection audit, still needs to be resolved. However, what is most important is that a process of continuous action, review and improvement is under way in this country”.

An important development was the adoption by Kazakhstan of a new inter-state GOST standard identical to the ILO-OSH 2001 “Guidelines for occupational safety and health management system”, based on risk assessment, workers participation and prevention, aimed at reaching a safety culture. The introduction of systematic OSH management systems at enterprises was strongly endorsed by major corporations in a seminar on risk assessment last April. A further training of trainers seminar will be organised in July 2008 for the National OSH institute and major enterprises.

Imstalkon, one of the biggest building and construction companies in Kazakhstan, has already introduced the new OSH management system at dozens of its enterprises throughout the country. The company now employs more than 9, 000 workers. Over the more than 50 years of its existence, it has built hundreds of projects, including the 372 meter Kok Tjube TV tower, Almaty international airport, the 26-storey Kazakhstan Hotel and many industrial enterprises.

“Construction works are connected with many risks, that is why we pay special attention to occupational safety, says Mikhail Rezunov, Imstalkon chief engineer. “Our task was to create a completely new management system, oriented towards risk assessment and prevention, addressing occupational risks at their source. And still the main change had to happen in people’s minds – they had to realize that it is much easier and less costly to prevent an accident than to deal with its consequences. Now, with the new system in place, we can say that our efforts pay back - not only in financial terms, but also in terms of our company’s image, which is equally important.”

Berdybek Saparbayev, Kazakhstan’s minister of labour and social protection, agrees: “Using the ILO methodology, we have compared the cost of prevention and that of the consequences from an accident in two of the most dangerous industries in our country – mining and construction. And we found that prevention costs dozens times less! ILO-OSH 2001 has proved to be a very efficient tool and we have to introduce it throughout Kazakhstan. Of course much is still to be done, but we will continue to move forward.”

The 18th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, taking place in Seoul, Republic of Korea, 29 June - 2 July 2008, is the largest global event in occupational safety and health. The Congress aims to contribute to improving health and the prevention of accidents and diseases in the workplace through the exchange of information and good practices, and will involve more than 3,000 policy-makers, senior executives, safety and health professionals, employers' and workers' representatives and social security experts. The triennial Congress is jointly organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Social Security Association (ISSA). The XVIII World Congress is hosted by the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA).