On 6 June 2022, The International Labour Conference decided to include a safe and healthy working environment as a fifth pillar of the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work. This was a landmark amendment to the ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, a document that in 1998 committed its members to respect, to promote and to realise the principles concerning fundamental rights.1
“A safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental principle and right at work”The International Labour Organization (ILO)
What are the ILO’s five pillars of fundamental principles and rights at work?
They are an expression of commitment by ILO members to uphold basic human values and affirm the obligations that are inherent in membership of the ILO2, which are recognised internationally as labour rights.
1. Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
2. The elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour
3. The effective abolition of child labour
4. The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation
5. A safe and healthy working environment
This historic development was described by IOSH as “the biggest moment for workers’ rights in a quarter of a century”.3
In anticipation of World Day of Safety and Health at Work 2023 on April 28, we’ve asked our expert contributors what the ILO’s commitment to a safe and healthy working environment as a fundamental right means for them and their industries.
“Due to moral, legal and financial reasons, most companies are ensuring a safe work environment for the workforce. But I am not sure whether Management is committed to ensuring a healthy working environment. In real practice, psychosocial risk and mental health have not been considered much by organisations. Some organisations are taking advantage of the post-Covid scenario and have retracted welfare facilities like food at subsidy price, salary increment etc. The workload has considerably increased, appropriate manpower resources have not been allocated, and lack of worker consultation is prevailing among the firms. Along with these factors, job insecurity and nationalisation waves impact worker mental peace. Managers overload skilled workers and are not tapping into skills from other workers, meaning that these skilled workers are undergoing severe work stress. To promote a healthy work environment, psychosocial and mental health risk assessment must be assured. Legal enforcement and stringent inspection must be done to ensure the workers’ health, primarily mental health. ISO 45003:2021 should be included along with the general safety training.” – Jayandran Mohan, HSE Trainer
“South Africa can boast the birth rights of some of the most prevalent names of Human Rights Warriors in history. The Constitution of South Africa, including the Bill of Rights is legislation at the forefront, in protecting and enforcing the human rights of its citizens across the board, extending from housing to fair labour practices. All of the above, should equate to exemplary protection in terms of workplace health and safety of employees in South Africa. However, this is surpassed by a socio-economic climate of crime, poverty, unemployment, and corruption. There is no dispute that health and safety should be the foremost principle and right at work but the mere publishing of such a statement does not make it so… Safety Professionals working in struggling economies have to focus on methods that are in line with the besieged budgets of Organisations. Open mind thinking and out of the box tactics must be considered and implemented to keep the workforce safe from harm at the same time. So, continue putting bread on the table, just not at the detriment of the baker.” – Sarah Olivier, HSE Practitioner at Ostem
“In 2022, when the ILO declared ‘a safe and healthy working environment’ to be one of their fundamental principles and rights, like many Health and Safety Professionals, I was delighted at the news. Member states, regardless of if they are ratified to ILO C155 and C187 Conventions or not, MUST now ensure that this Fundamental Principle and Right is the case, within the workplaces of their jurisdictions and boundaries. No longer can excuses be made and used, that Member States cannot do this, simply because they have not signed pieces of paper. Whilst this change can be a great driving force for good, however, it is pointless if this new Fundamental Principle and Right are not actioned or enforced. Talk is cheap, so only the ILO’s and Member States’ actions moving forward, will tell us if this change is a success or otherwise. We must, all of us, from members of the public right through to legislators and Governments, play our part in driving home the message, that every single person who goes to work, also gets to go home safely.” – James Pretty, Chartered HSE and Training & Development Professional
“As someone who has spent nearly forty years investigating accidents at work, I am always shocked by the devastation that these events cause on the people and their families. I believed that there was a clear distinction between fatal accidents and serious accidents – I quickly changed my mind! I have seen and also experienced first-hand how painful and exasperating the process of recovery is. Physiotherapy is enormously helpful to recover mobility, but I was shocked at how painful it was and over a considerable period of time. I now believe that all accidents are “serious” with life changing consequences both for individuals and their families. I recognised that people tended to focus on safety related events over health events, partly because they were more immediate and visual, but I realised that suffering from a long term health condition (such as asthma or dermatitis) can be just as painful and crushing. The mental health impacts of all the above often go completely unnoticed and untreated causing even greater anguish. I am now a firm believer that a safe and healthy working environment is critical and vital to all people who are engaged in work activities.” – Graeme Lawrie, HSSE Manager at OMV
“For me health and safety means a personal as well as a professional topic. Both of my grandfathers were killed by their work. My family hails from the Northeast of England – once famous as being one of the UK’s heartlands for coal mining activities. One grandfather was killed via an explosion in a mine which caused his immediate death and that of 11 other miners. The other grandfather developed Pneumoconiosis, which led to his much debilitated life for many years, then on to his eventual death. It was caused by breathing in the coal mine dust he encountered during his duties. Therefore, having known first hand the devastation and generational damage that a poor working environment can cause, on World Day for Safety and Health at Work I sincerely support the statement that “A safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental principle and right at work”. We discuss facts and figures and look at case studies but how much insight do we really have into the tangible personal and human effects of a poor or non-existent safety culture? The results of which can shape families for many years in the future? My knowledge is what fuels me to support the ILO’s campaign wholeheartedly.” – Caroline Savage, Corporate OHS
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