According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) studies, occupational accidents and work-related diseases are responsible for around two million deaths around the world. Moreover, there are around 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million work related diseases each year (1).
As mentioned in our previous article « Human Resources Worldwide« , first considerations of health and security at work started in the nineteenth century. Nowadays, more than 70 ILO conventions and recommendations exist concerning safety and health issues. More than 30 Codes of Practice on Occupational Health and Safety have been published as well. The Labour Inspection Convention (1947, No 81) is one of the most ratified instruments of the ILO, as more than 130 member States have ratified it. Since 2005, the ILO organizes a « World Day for Safety and Health at Work ». Its aim is to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally and to make people aware of global trends in the field of occupational safety and health. This celebration is held on the 28th of April, which is also the international Commemoration day for dead and injured workers. The announced theme of the « World Day for Safety and Health at Work » in 2015 is « Join in building a Culture of Prevention on Occupational Safety and Health ».
It is essential to remember that there are two main different approaches when speaking about Health and Security at work : We can consider either hygiene and security at the workplace (which implies the prevention of occupational accidents and work-related diseases), and/or general health at work (which implies the promotion of physical and psychological well-being of the workers) (2). Ready for a quick round-the-world?
In Canada, employers have the duty « to protect employees from dangers that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or illness, including exposure to hazardous substances that are likely to result in damage to the reproductive system »(3). In France, this duty of protection is extended to every risks that can be faced by the employees at work, including psychological risks. That is an obligation of results : If a worker gets injured or dies at the workplace, then the employer is responsible for it (4). In China, law says that : « Equipment, tools, appliances, and other facilities shall meet the requirements for protecting the physical and mental health of employees » (5) : a duty to considerate things the employee works with. Eventually, Kenya’s legislation provides that : « Every occupier shall ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all persons working in his workplace »(6).
Most of the countries have regulations concerning health and safety at work. The main differences are the strength of responsibility for the employer, the implementation and obviously the perception people have of the danger. But it could not be as simple as reducing one behavior to one country : the way employers feel concerned about safety and health issues also depends on the sector of activity of the firm, the functions occupied by the workers, the way employees themselves feel concerned about it. The perception of risks and danger at work also varies according to risks and dangers workers have to face in their daily life.
Why and how should a company care about health and safety at work?
According to the different regulations existing across the world, companies can face several consequences of workplace accidents, injuries and illness. These events can have financial consequences : absence of the workers, costs to possibly recruit another worker, and even judicial costs when the employer is held responsible for the damages. Being conscious of risks and taking actions in order to reduce work-related incidents makes workers aware that you do not treat them like filth. The workers can be more efficient for the only reason that you care about them, as demonstrated by the « Hawthorne effect » (Elton Mayo) (7).
However, if Human Resources departments can be responsible for employees’ welfare, they need to collaborate with other actors in the company. Health and Safety management is a real wide field. When speaking about workplace accidents, the direct hierarchical superior could be the good manager. While speaking about psychological issues, and according to its gravity, the Human Resources Department could manage it as well. In any case, it is essential for a Human Resources Department to launch sustainable policies and actions to continually prevent workers from any incident and improve their welfare at work. This implies to take time for it, to encourage dialogue mainly with workers, trade unions, and people managing quality in the firm. In any case, it is worth taking time to consider it is a serious thing to work on and not only through « statistics » on work-related injuries.
Let’s end with a quotation from Dr Robert Long, an Australian Executive Director at Centre for Leadership and Learning in Risk, which says :
« Measuring Safety Performance by the number of injuries you have is like measuring parenting by the number of smacks you give”
(1) International Labour Organization (Geneva, 2010), « Facts on Safety at work » (Accessed 16 November 2014)
(2) Babin.M (2011) Santé et Sécurité au Travail. Rueil-Malmaison (France): Lamy (Wolters Kluwer)
(4) République Française (Paris, 2014), « Sécurité et santé au travail : obligations de l’employeur » (Accessed 16 November 2014)
(5) Law of the People’s Republic of China on Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases (Order of the President No.60)
(6) Kenya’s government (2007), « The Occupational Safety and health act » (Accessed 16 November 2014)
(7) Elton Mayo, Hawthorne and the Western Electric Company, The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation, Routledge, 1949.