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Prevention the best bet against workplace hazards, UN labour chief stresses

Prevention the best bet against workplace hazards, UN labour chief stresses

Workers assembling electronic goods in Indonesia
The head of the United Nations labour arm today called for enhanced prevention in the face of emerging risks in the workplace as he marked this year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

Work days lost, medical treatment required and cash benefits paid out due to workplace accidents or related injuries account for some 4 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), said Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), in a message marking the Day.

This exceeds the total value of stimulus packages rolled out during the economic crisis, he emphasized.

“We are still dealing with the consequences of workplace hazards of the past,” Mr. Somavia noted, with 2.3 million people die from work-related injuries or diseases every year. “At the same time we are confronted with new occupational safety and health challenges in a world of work undergoing rapid transformation.”

He pointed out that new risks have emerged in fields such as nanotechnology application, biotechnology and chemical handling.

An ageing workforce, as well as rising numbers of female, migrant and informal workers, also has implications for occupational safety and health strategies.

“Another striking development is the rise in psychosocial conditions linked to new stresses and strains of work in the global economy,” the ILO head said, with the recent global downturn having taken a heavy toll on many workers.

Occupational safety and health management systems must continue to be reassessed and bolstered if they are to over poor past practices, meet current challenges and anticipate future risks, he underscored.

“Experience shows that prevention works for all.”