Decades of struggle by workers and their unions have resulted in significant improvements in working conditions. But the toll of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths remains enormous.
Every year, people in communities and at workplaces around the globe recognise workers who have been killed or injured on the job. Trade unionists around the world now mark April 28 as an International Day of Mourning.
A new briefing from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports one worker dies every fifteen seconds worldwide. Six thousand a day. Work kills more people than wars. It also injures and mutilates.
Almost 270 million accidents are recorded each year, of which 350,000 are fatal. Many of these tragedies could be prevented, the ILO believes, however, twenty years after the Bhopal disaster, which killed 2,500 people and injured 200,000 in the space of a few hours, the situation has scarcely improved as the following examples show:
January 2004: explosion at the Skikda liquified natural gas complex in Algeria. 27 workers killed.
Kemerevo, Siberia, 10 April 2004: Fatal explosion in a mine, at least 44 miners killed.
Jieyan, China, 9 April 2004: electric shocks kill 12 workers and injure three others on a building site after they come into contact with a 10,000-volt cable.
Dublin, Ireland, 13 April 2004: a study reveals that hundreds of thousands of workers suffer from stress.
Work causes injuries, mutilations, sickness and, still all too often, death. Not by chance, but through negligence. Due not to the absence of standards, but to their violation. Not because of poverty, but because of the lack of preventive measures. All too often today workers’ lives continue to be unnecessarily put at risk.
Health and safety in the workplace is the sole responsibility of the employer. Some employers take this obligation seriously and, increasingly, they draw competitive advantage from it in their advertising campaigns. Others seem to put short-term profit before safety.
How else can we explain the fact that millions of workers are still exposed to asbestos, when it is widely known that its fibres kill more than 100,000 people each year? This is clearly down to negligence on the part of certain employers and governments who persist in using this substance (and even, in some cases, singing its praises). Negligence, too, by those governments who appear to be in no hurry to ratify and implement the international Convention adopted by the ILO in 1986, banning some kinds of asbestos. To date, this Convention has been ratified by only 27 of the ILO’s 177 member States.