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World Day for Safety and Health at Work 28 April 2019 „Safety and health at work and the future of work“

This year World Day for Safety and Health at Work  shall begin celebrating a century since the International Labor Organization has been initiated and the achievments in safety and health at work during this period. On that occasion the publication has been released entitled “Safety and health at the heart of the future of work – building on 100 years of experience ” Publication covers the overview of the risks at work, acquired knowledge and improved work conditions during the century, as well as future risks including new technologies, demographics, changed work organization and sustainable development challenges.

Where are we now?

In spite of the improvement of safety and health at work, globally 1,000 workers are estimated to die every day from occupational accidents and a further 6,500 from work-related diseases, meaning that 390,000 die from occupational injuries and 2.4 million from occupational diseases yearly. The fraction of the global disease burden in the general population amounts to 2.7%. Ergonomic factors, risk factors for injuries, particulate matter, gases, fumes and noise are still the most frequent occupational risk factors, and their prevalence is even raising. Cardiovascular diseases (31%), cancers (26%) and respiratory diseases (17%) contribute the most to the work-related mortality.

New occupational risks

New occupational risks occur with the rapidly advancing technologies which are present in all aspects of work, such as digitalization, robotics, nanotechnology etc., improving significantly work conditions. However, some adverse health effects were noticed, for example, through the collection and recording of sensitive personal information during the work.

Population aging is present in many parts of the world and represents the challenge to work organization and work practice. Women are more often engaged in informal work and home-based work which remove them from high-risk workplaces. However, lack of occupation safety and health oversight might pose occupational risk in some circumstance.

Climate changes induces by human activities are significantly transforming both world of work and life of general population. Air pollution from coal mining poses the health risk for miners, while use and combustion of coal affects health of population and environment. Green technologies and jobs reduce health risks in work settings; however, new risks should be anticipated for example due to exposure to chemicals in recycling sector.

Changes in work organization in the world that is connected in many ways, result in excessive hours of work and non-standard forms of employment. Working from home reduces stress associated with commuting and enable better work organization adapted to individual worker. On the other hand, work from home reduces the difference between hours of work and everyday life and presents other kind of psychological burden.

How to anticipate new risk?

New and emerging occupational risks should be followed and their influence on the safety and health at work should be anticipated. For this purpose, multidisciplinary approach is necessary including various sectors and disciplines such as: laws (labor and safety and health), workplace design (engineering, ergonomics, software, automatization), tools (technology, health technology, sensors), public health (nutrition, physical activity) and workers’ health (psychology, ergonomics, occupational health and work organization). It is important to develop human resources in safety and health at work and obtain continuing learning and training before and during the employment, and with every change at workplace for both workers and employers. Considering work as social determinant of public health more attention should be paid to health promotion, prevention and solving psychosocial risks, mental disorders and non-communicable diseases.

International Labor Organization adopted more than 40 international standards in occupational safety and health, related to fundamental and general principle of occupational safety and health, specific health risks at work and specific sectors and industries through conventions, recommendations, guidelines of good practice, etc. Successful activity in occupational safety and health can be achieved only by common work of government, workers and employers establishing effective social dialog.

In January 2019 ILO Global Committee on the Future of Work published “Universal labor Guarantee”, including fundamental workers’ rights, an adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and ensuring safe and healthy workplaces and calling for the recognition of safety and health at work as a fundamental principle and right at work.

It’s time for action!

dr Srmena Krstev