The Right to a Safe and Healthy Work Environment Becomes an ILO Fundamental Principle
Continued efforts by regulatory bodies such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and other similar bodies have gone a long way in making the workplace safer and healthier. However, safety leaders unanimously agree that there is room for improvement.
Here are some data points to mull over:
- Nearly three million people die annually due to accidents and illnesses at work
- Additionally, 374 million workers experience workplace injuries and illnesses
- Overwork causes the death of more than 745,000 people every year due to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack
- Thousands died during the Covid-19 pandemic due to a lack of sufficient safeguards
Taking cognizance of this, the International Labour Organization (ILO) which started in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles and as a specialized agency of the United Nations since 1946 – recognized a safe and healthy work environment as one of its five fundamental principles and rights during an international conference in June 2022.
From a workplace safety perspective, this is certainly good news. It’ll give the much-necessary impetus to bring back the focus on minimizing safety risks at work, with the support of a safety management system that is not only reactive but also preventive and proactive. Needless to say, it also includes employee well-being as a key theme to consider and look at health hazards like overwork and stress as organizational issues rather than individual problems.
The ILO emphasizes the importance of identifying each and every type of health hazard and workplace risk, ideally before it becomes an incident. This could be anything from mine collapses, factory fires, and even stress and overwork.
However, this is just the first step and requires a concerted effort from the international community at every level – right from more stringent regulations to the commitment of governments, employers, and workers to improve workplace safety and health and prevent the deaths and injuries of millions across the globe.
Wide Range of Safety Threats & Health Hazards
The workplace is a veritable collection of several types of hazards and risks to worker safety and health. It ranges from ergonomic hazards causing musculoskeletal disorders to injuries due to slips, trips, machinery, electrical, and fire accidents. There can be lifelong disabilities due to working in locations with high noise or constant vibration, such as in the construction industry. Eye injuries are also possible due to exposure to strong light, such as in welding. This list could go on and on.
Apart from common injuries across industries, some may be more typical in certain industries. For instance, the oil and gas industry poses a higher risk of accidents due to explosions, environmental damage due to oil spills, etc. In the construction industry, the risks increase manifold due to working from heights. In both these industries, there is a constant movement of heavy vehicles, which poses further risks. If you take manufacturing, shop floor risks are usually associated with a lack of proper equipment maintenance, lack of training, lack of SOPs, etc. In sectors like life sciences, there is a need for additional focus on lab safety issues. Of course, patient safety also comes into play.
Then, there may be risks that need to be managed due to changes in requirements. This could lead to changes in specifications, and the original risks that were identified may need to be reevaluated for their applicability and new ones identified for mitigation.
Need for a ‘Continuously Improving’ Safety and Health Management System
Safety and health management is not only a regulatory requirement or a matter merely for government intervention. While regulations and policies provide the guidelines needed to facilitate an effective safety management system in every organization, the commitment must come from the organizations themselves. In addition to the senior management creating the policies and establishing processes, it requires employee participation in ensuring their own safety and that of their co-workers, the workplace, and society in general. It requires enforcing safe behaviors and observing processes. It requires a holistic, enterprise-wide approach to successfully mitigate risks and create an incident-free workplace.
To create a safe workplace, businesses need to:
- Identify and prioritize risks
- Implement controls to mitigate the risks
- Evaluate the existing health and safety practices for their effectiveness
- Improve safety policy based on areas of opportunities
- Align it with business goals
- Communicate it to the organization
- Set processes and SOPs
- Establishing metrics
- Measure progress
- Effect continuous improvement (CI)
An enterprise-wide rollout and commitment to the safety program are required to ensure an incident-free workplace. This assures employees of their safety, increases their involvement in their core activities, improves safe behavior, increases productivity, enhances brand reputation, and accelerates growth.
One safety leader we spoke to said this, which really resonated with the product team at ComplianceQuest: “If any safety event CAN be avoided, it MUST be.” While it sounds simple and obvious – it is a profound statement that requires deep thought. The point is a robust Safety Management System (SMS) with the power of AI and Automation can ensure safety-related initiatives are taken across the following layers:
- Reactive: Once an incident happens, move with agility to fix the issue. But don’t stop there. Do whatever it takes to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. This may mean better training, building out a new process, adding a ‘Permit to Work’, etc.
- Preventive: Once a safety observation or near-miss is reported or potential risk is identified, put control measures in place. Don’t hesitate to take the call. Give employees the opportunity to report safety concerns freely, without fear of blame.
- Proactive: Identify various types of risks, prioritize them, and take action. Assign relevant teams and stakeholders, and ensure execution and project management of safety programs are not inefficient or ineffective.
Manually managing the safety management system can be challenging, especially given the ever-changing regulatory environment and the increasing complexity of the modern business environment. A cloud-based solution such as ComplianceQuest can help with implementing the ILO vision of making the workplace safer, minimizing accidents, and improving worker productivity.
The solution is applicable across industries such as construction, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing, among others. Some of the key features include:
- Environmental and Sustainability: Easily manage, track and analyze environmental and sustainability metrics
- Incident Management: Empower employees with tools for incident reporting as the event is happening and improve management by triggering CAPA, root cause analysis, and issue resolution
- Management Review: Empower management with a tower of safety data to improve the safety systems and make informed decisions to make the workplace safer
- Permit to Work: Automate permit-to-work workflows to identify high-risk zones and tasks, allow only authorized personnel to work, and only for the specified duration, with mitigative controls in place
- Risk: Take a risk-based approach to identify, manage, monitor, and mitigate risks
- Safety Observations: Capture data on near-misses and observations to improve risk management and prevent their blowing up into full-fledged incidents
- Supplier: Integrate with supplier systems to reduce safety risks and improve conformance and safety
- Training: Identify gaps in safety management and train employees in safety requirements
- Document: Document safety events and observations to increase compliance
- Audit: Conduct periodic audits to improve workplace safety
The ILO vision of making the world safer requires the participation of all stakeholders. By implementing a modern, cloud-based safety solution (like CQ EHS System) businesses can increase workplace safety, reduce incidents, injuries and deaths, and increase productivity.
To find out how ComplianceQuest can help you be a part of this movement toward making your workplace safer, contact us now: https://www.compliancequest.com/contact-us/