Creating a generation of safe and healthy workers: an example of evidence based policy through the ILO

-ILO HQ, Geneva.

This blog post is part of a series of reflections upon decisions made, and discussions and sessions held at the ILO’s 326th Governing Body.

By Winona Shaw and Monisha Khanna


In an effort to address the global youth employment crisis, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has identified five key policy action areas to develop decent jobs for young people around the world. One of these key areas is the rights and safety of young workers.

The ILO estimates that every day 6,400 people die from occupational accidents or diseases, and a further 860,000 people are injured at work. This amounts to around 2.3 million work-related injuries and deaths a year. The ILO recognises that young people are disproportionately represented in these figures. According to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) branch of the ILO, young people in all sectors, but particularly construction, manufacturing and agriculture are more likely to be injured at work than older employees.

A range of causes for this increased likelihood of workplace injury have been identified. Younger workers have less on-the-job experience, which when coupled with a lack of appropriate supervision and training by employers means that young people can be less aware of workplace risks and hazards. Moreover, young people are often assigned more hazardous tasks than their older colleagues- thus increasing the likelihood of harm.

As young people increasingly find themselves in precarious or non-standard forms of work, they may lack the power or confidence to speak out against unfair or dangerous requests and may become fearful of repercussions. A further factor identified is that younger people have a lower awareness of health and safety legislation and are less likely be a member of a trade union, meaning that they may not have access to experienced actors to advocate on their behalf.

When people first engage in a job with an employer they usually form a psychological contract with their employers. This means that employees have an unwritten understanding of the employer-employee relationship in terms of mutual obligations. These obligations are usually defined as “promises” made to employees in exchange for their time and work, such as the opportunity for advancement and a safe working environment. Unfortunately, youths may not be able to make this same type of unwritten contract as their lack of experience coupled with job shortages leave them vulnerable to accept unsafe work conditions.

The Safe & Healthy Youth Project aims to improve the occupational safety and health (OSH) of young workers aged 15 to 24. A key strategy of the project is the improvement of data collection methods relating to OSH. This relates to wider ILO aims of enhancing the relevance and quality of knowledge in their work. Improved data collection allows for more effective and targeted legislative responses as well as improving national policies relating to young workers. Increased knowledge of particular workplace hazards faced by young people can be used in the design of workplace health and safety initiatives as well as programmes to increase public awareness.

Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar have been selected as pilot countries for the implementation of the project; the policies and interventions developed from research in these countries will guide interventions in other participating states.

Read more about Occupational Safety and Health at the ILO here and the The Safe & Healthy Youth Project here.


Monisha Khanna is a MSc Occupational Psychology student at the University of Sheffield Management School. She is interested in the future of work, employment trends, wellbeing and safety at work and youth employment.

Winona Shaw is a Postgraduate student within the Sociological Studies department at the University of Sheffield. She has a keen interest in social protection, social policy and workers’ caring responsibilities.



CIPD (2016). The psychological contract. Available online: (Accessed 22/03/2016)

ILO (2012) ‘The Youth Employment Crisis: A Call for Action’. International Labour Office, Geneva. Available:—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_185950.pdf (Accessed 22/03/2016)

ILO (2016) ‘Building a Generation of Safe and Healthy Workers’. International Labour Organisation [online]. Available:–en/index.htm (Accessed 22/03/2016)

Levintow, N. (2016) “ Safe and Healthy Youth Project.” Powerpoint presentation





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