Opinion

The first global OSH campaign that aspires to zero harm

Shelley Frost, Executive director of policy, IOSH
Executive director - policy, IOSH

Occupational accidents and disease exert a significant burden on the world in terms of human and financial costs. They hinder us all and blight millions of lives.

New figures which begin to quantify this stark truth were revealed at the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Singapore (September 2017), a triennial gathering where leading organisations for safety and health connect with ministers, policymakers and some of the world’s largest corporations.

When the total cost of illnesses, injuries and deaths at work every year is revealed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to be 3.94% of global GDP, or $2.99trn (£2.1trn), even those interested more in economic performance and profit than human lives should sit up and take notice.

The new estimates – the most accurate yet – represent the combined GDP of the world’s 130 poorest countries. So the costs, both financial and human, are significant for us all. In Europe, according to EU-OSHA, work-related ill-health and injury costs the European Union 3.3% of its GDP, amounting to around €476bn (£420bn) every year.

This was the first attempt to determine cost as a percentage of GDP loss due to occupational injuries and work-related diseases from ILO Global Estimates 2017 and the Global Burden of Disease report 2015.

The improved information gives a clearer picture of where we need to focus attention. At 52.1%, occupational cancers cause the most work-related deaths in the EU each year. Worldwide, one person dies every 43 seconds from work-related cancer, which claims an estimated 742,000 lives each year. These statistics inform IOSH’s global No Time to Lose campaign aiming to prevent occupational cancer.

High-level support offered by organisations and governments at the world congress is now helping Vision Zero to take shape

The good news is that almost every workplace accident or occupational disease is preventable if we’re trained well and we take sufficient responsibility for ourselves and the people we employ, manage and work with.

In answer to these grim figures, the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work presented a blueprint for prevention and zero harm. It’s called Vision Zero.

What does it mean for the world, and how can we achieve it? That’s what I sought to address as chair of the education and training section of the International Social Security Association.

In a technical session on Vision Zero and a symposium I led on the future of occupational safety and health training, we explored the new seven golden rules of Vision Zero, how accredited trainers can now register with the www.visionzero.global website to receive free materials and carry out Vision Zero training, and practical ways to make progress on the scheme’s journey.

This is not a new vision, but IOSH has contributed to developing and refining it, investing in influential research by Professor Gerard Zwetsloot and others in the past ten years to define it and explore how to realise it.

High-level support offered by organisations and governments at the world congress is now helping it to take shape.

We look forward to continuing to help translate Vision Zero into reality in collaboration with the many partner organisations committing themselves to this worldwide. It’s a cause that will deliver benefits for everyone.

Shelley Frost, Executive director of policy, IOSH

Shelley Frost is executive director - policy at IOSH. She was formerly head of sustainability at Aggregate Industries UK and has held a number of senior positions in the health and safety and sustainability arenas, from regulatory, policy and strategy to operational management.

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