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Occupational Safety and Health

ILO welcomes new global measures addressing workplace hazardous chemicals

Under a new Global Framework, some of the most harmful chemicals used in the working environment will be phased out.

News | 05 October 2023
© Sunan Wongsa-nga
GENEVA (ILO News) – The International Labour Organization (ILO) has welcomed the adoption of a new Global Framework, created to reduce environmental and health risks from chemicals and waste.

The Global Framework on Chemicals, which is backed up by a High-Level Declaration, sets concrete targets and guidelines across the lifecycle of chemicals, including the phasing out of some of the most harmful.

Since 2006, the ILO, and its constituents – workers’ and employers’ organizations as well as governments – have played a part in shaping the Global Framework and have worked to manage the use of hazardous chemicals in the working environment. Twenty-two international labour standards cover the management of these hazards.

The Framework’s text highlights a Just Transition as a “principle and approach” of the agreement. “A just transition towards an environmentally sustainable economy, with the sound management of chemicals and waste, contributes to the goals of decent work for all, social inclusion, protection of human rights and the eradication of poverty,” it states.

“This is an important step forward. The widespread use of hazardous chemicals impacts the safety and health of workers, the public and the environment, and threatens the broader goals of decent work and social justice for all,” said ILO Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo. “By prioritizing the sound management of chemicals and waste, within the context of a just transition, we can protect workers, green our economy, while supporting decent work opportunities.”

Every year, hazardous substances kill around 1.1 million workers worldwide, equivalent to approximately 2,900 per day, while toxic chemical exposures accounts for more than tens of millions of working days lost to disability, ill-health or premature death. The economic impact is estimated at 2.1 per cent of annual global GDP. The scope and cost of the impact is expected to rise, given the increasing use of chemical substances and increasing life expectancies.

As well as codifying the good management of chemicals and waste, the Framework’s 28 targets are intended to strengthen connections with other global development agendas, including climate change, biodiversity, human rights and occupational safety and health. “A safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental principle and right at work; therefore, all workers should be protected,” it states. “Workplace measures and policies, including the ratification and implementation of relevant international labour standards, should be integrated in chemical and waste management efforts.”

The Framework was adopted at the UN-organized fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5), held in Bonn, Germany.