Safety in numbers: Pointers for a global safety culture at work

On the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we put the spotlight on promoting safety at work. This report sets out the challenges that we face and points the way ahead. Awareness must be accompanied by engagement and action. Working together with our constituents and other relevant actors, the ILO looks forward to being part of a renewed effort to promote safe work worldwide.

The ILO’s decent work agenda reflects the aspiration of women and men to live and work in dignity. Work is central to people’s lives, to the stability of families and societies. People want work that gives them and their families an acceptable standard of living; work where they have a voice and where their fundamental rights are respected. They want some protection when they cannot work as well as protection from disease and injury at work.

Decent work is safe work but we are a long way from achieving that goal. Every year some two million men and women lose their lives through accidents and diseases linked to their work. In addition, workers suffer 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases each year - these are conservative estimates.

These figures speak of dreadful human loss, pain and suffering. Yet awareness of the problem is still too low. Perhaps it is because these incidents are dispersed. A few dramatic cases receive public attention. But the everyday reality of the majority who die, fall ill or are injured from work-related causes is largely unnoticed.

Taken together these incidents constitute a social phenomenon and the world has an obligation to act. Inaction carries a high human cost. Inaction also carries an economic price. And enterprises and workers know that it adversely affects productivity. Work that undermines business efficiency while disregarding the safety and health of workers cannot be the basis of a sustainable development strategy.

Fatalities, accidents and illness at work are highly preventable. We use our global reach to promote a safety culture in the workplace - wherever work is done - backed by appropriate national policies and programmes. Through our standard-setting activities, the development of guidelines and codes of practice as well as through international collaboration and cooperation, we provide reference points for action, practical instruments and assistance to make workplaces safer.