By Monisha Khanna
At the 326th session of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Governing Body meeting, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour of Thailand ratified the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187). This means that Thailand will promote a national policy that will focus on the “continuous improvement of occupational safety and health to prevent occupational injuries, diseases and deaths, by the development, in consultation with the most representative organizations of employers and workers, of a national policy, national system and national programme” (Convention 187).
Convention 187 is a key instrument in the ILO’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) programme, which is supported by more than 40 standards. The initial aim of the OSH program is to ensure that workers are protected against sickness, disease and injury in the workplace. In support of OSH programme’s mission and the international labour standards, the ILO has created annual “Safe Day” campaigns to raise global awareness and promote social dialogue around the issues of health and safety.
This brief explores the background of the annual April 28th World Day for Safety and Health at Work “Safe Days.” It reflects on how this programme has evolved from solely trying to improve working conditions to introducing preventative measures and a preventative health and safety culture that both employers and workers can implement to improve their work environment. Additionally, it discusses how the ILO has stayed abreast of global issues through its Safe Day thematic campaigns and reports.
History of World Day for Safety and Health at Work – “Safe Day”
Since 2003, the ILO has reserved April 28th as the day to raise awareness and bring international attention to trends in the “field of occupational safety and health and on the magnitude of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities worldwide.” The ILO was initially asked to join in an awareness campaign by the trade unions who observe the 28th of April as the International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers.
The ILO saw this as an opportunity to leverage its roots of tripartism and strengthen social dialogue, by creating an international “Safe Day” safety campaign on April 28th. This initiative would serve as a reminder to governments, employers and the trade unions to “promote a preventive safety and health culture … allowing workers to return safely to their homes at the end of the working day.”
“Safe Day” programs have focused on thematic campaigns intended to raise global awareness of important health and safety issues. For example, in 2006 one of the key Safe Day objectives was safeguarding workers from HIV/AIDS work-related deaths and spearheading the discussion to reduce workplace discrimination around HIV/AIDS. In 2008, the ILO issued a report entitled “My life, my work, my safe work: Managing risk in the work environment,” that employed accessible risk management tools to help detect workplace hazards. This was a notable concern for migrant and marginalized workers, who are often employed in more high-risk work.
The poster for 2008’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work (Source: ILO)
The impact of the global economic crisis played a central theme in the 2010 Safe Day campaign, which was entitled “Emerging risks and new patterns of prevention in a changing world of work.” This was the year that the ILO introduced a new list of occupational diseases, which for the first time included psychosocial conditions such as mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder. The press release for the event noted that an increasing number of psychosocial illnesses were associated with “new stresses and strains of work in the global economy.”
The 2011 campaign took the ILO’s risk assessment research a step forward with the introduction of an online tool to help organizations and workers to better assess and prevent workplace health and safety hazards. The “Occupational Safety and Health Management System: A tool for continual improvement” campaign, had a four-pronged systems approach which focused on the principles of the “PDCA cycle: PLAN, DO, CHECK, ACT.” This process could be adapted to a range of situations — from the needs of small-to-medium-sized enterprises to large-scale industries such as mining and construction.
In conjunction with its members, the ILO implemented Safe Day awareness campaigns on a global scale through street festivals, conferences, workshops, exhibitions, movie screenings, and numerous other services and events that help governments, employers and workers to stay on top of OSH issues.
Theme for 2016 — Workplace Stress: A Collective Challenge
The theme for April 28th 2016 is workplace stress. This year’s theme expands upon the traditional scope of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) to include “behavioural medicine, occupational health psychology and social wellbeing, thereby acknowledging people’s need to conduct a socially and economically productive life.” Modern-day occupational psychology theories define work-related stress as a “negative emotional state that can result from the interaction between a person and their environment” (Arnold, 2010).
The poster for 2016’s World Day for Safety and Health at work. (Source: UN)
In its recent Safe Day report, the ILO recognized that workplace stress was a global issue that was increasing in prevalence across all industries, in both “developed and developing countries.” The report documented that both workplace psychosocial hazards relating to a person’s working condition (i.e. exposure to chemicals, etc.) and organization psychosocial hazards, such as a person’s control over their work, impacted work-related stress.
Changes in employment patterns and technological advances have had implications for the extent and causes of work-related stress. For instance, in some countries workers are increasingly being offered employment on a contract or temporary work basis rather than a full-time regular basis. These shifts in employment patterns can trigger anxiety about job security and cause workers to have less control over their jobs. Additionally, the boundaries of work-life and home-life have become blurred, partly as a result of advances in technology. Email, smartphones and videoconferencing are a few of the tools that have made it easier for people to work remotely. However, the pressure to stay connected to the office makes it difficult for workers to “switch-off.” As a result, they continue to engage with their employment well beyond their contracted working hours.
Furthermore, studies have linked workplace stress to an increase in physical accidents at work. “Evidence clearly suggests that factors such as high workload and job demands, low decision latitude, low skill discretion, lack of organizational support, conflicts with supervisors and colleagues, or highly monotonous work are linked to a higher likelihood of injury in an occupational accident.” (Workplace stress: A collective challenge, 2016)
The report also highlights ways in which workers and employers can address work-related stress illnesses and provides recommendations for protecting the wellbeing of workers. A notable resource offered on the ILO website is the “Checkpoint app series,” a set of digital diagnostic tools that help improve health and safety in the workplace. The apps include interactive stress prevention and ergonomic solution guidelines. This resource represents a further way in which the ILO seeks to improve OSH practises and assist governments, employers and trade unions in promoting a preventive health and safety culture.
Monisha Khanna is an 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.