UN labour agency observes annual day promoting workplace safety

In the 20th anniversary year of the massive Union Carbide factory gas leak that affected nearly 250,000 people in Bhopal, India, the United Nations labour agency today observed its annual “World Day for Safety and Health at Work” with a worldwide commemoration of those who lost life or health in workplace accidents.From Addis Ababa to Zimbabwe, from Bhopal to Belgium, the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) staged memorials, marches, symposia and talk shows, including a performance by the New York City Labour Choir at the Commission for Sustainable Development meeting at UN Headquarters.ILO estimated that more than 2 million people die from work-related causes every year – including some 22,000 children, 750,000 women and 1.5 million men. The very high figure for men reflected the fact that men often do the world’s most dangerous work, it said.”A safety culture must be nurtured through partnership and dialogue – governments, employers and workers within a framework of rights, responsibilities and duties, finding common ground, creating safe and healthy work places,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said in a message.Highlighting health issues and accidents reported so far this month, ILO said at least 44 miners died in a mine explosion in Russia; electric shocks killed 12 workers and injured three others on a building site in China and a study in Ireland showed that hundreds of thousands of workers were suffering from stress, at a cost of 4 million working days lost last year alone.It noted that the December 1984 Bhopal accident, which drew increased attention to ways of preventing industrial accidents, killed 2,500 people then and 20,000 people later, and injured more than 200,000.About 80 per cent of occupational deaths and accidents could be prevented if all ILO Member States would provide more information to workers and use the best accident prevention strategies and practices. All of these are already in place and easily available, it said.Industrialized countries needed to focus on improving poor workplace relations and management, counteracting the mental and physical consequences of repetitive, highly technical tasks and providing information to workers on handling new technologies and substances, including chemicals, ILO said.Countries that are industrializing should give priority to improving safety and health practices in their primary economic activities, such as farming, fishing and logging.They should prevent industrial accidents, including fires and exposure to hazardous substances, as well as work on methods to avoid traditional accidents and diseases, including those in informal workshops and home-based industries, ILO said.

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