SAFETY AND HEALTH AT WORK: A Fundamental Right at the heart of EU Global Social Agenda

April 28th is World Day for Safety and Health at Work. In the month of April, marking this year its 9th tragic anniversary, the memory of the Rana Plaza disaster, where more than one thousand workers lost their lives, is a vivid reminder that accidents at work are never a fatality. They can and should be prevented by all means.  

According to the ILO, each year 1.9 million people die and 360 million have an accident at their workplace and an estimated 479 million workers work long hours of 55 hours/week or more. 

In this dramatic context, the work of CSOs committed to advancing social justice and workers’ rights also through workers’ education, such as our members, becomes all the more relevant. They promote awareness and provide tools and knowledge to their affiliates through workshops and advocacy actions that promote safety and health at work. Nevertheless, improving the safety and health conditions at work requires that appropriate legislative provisions and measures to ensure their implementation  are in place.  

In its recent (23 February 2022) Communication on decent work worldwide for a global just transition and a sustainable recovery, the European Commission highlights its committment to promote and ensure occupational safety and health (OSH) as part of its global support to the ILO decent work agenda. At EU level and as stated in principle 10 of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), “workers should have the right to a working environment adapted to their professional needs and which enables them to prolong their participation in the labour market.”  

The Communication on Decent Work identifies a wide range of tools that the EU has at its disposal to promote safe and decent jobs. They include:  

  1. Public Procurement 

Socially responsible public procurement is a powerful tool to promote decent work. Public procurement, representing around 14% of the EU’s GDP, can provide strong incentives to companies to ensure they fulfill the obligations deriving from ILO conventions, including those in the area of OSH. The direct responsibility of the main contractor to ensure that these obligations are respected along all its subcontracting chain, would make a real difference, especially in those sectors where accidents are quite frequent (for example, the building sector). At home and abroad, the EU should champion sustainable public procurement! 

  1. ILO Conventions’ adoption, ratification and implementation   

The Communication reiterates that the EU and its Member States shall contribute to “global partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives promoting decent work worldwide” including in relation to just transition and occupational safety and health. OSH is a fundamental right at work. In this regard, the EU shall support the ratification and implementation of ILO C155 as well as the integration of OSH into the ILO framework on fundamental principles and rights at work.  

The point is on the Agenda of the forthcoming ILO Conference (Geneva, 27th May- 11t June): we expect the EU and its member states to speak with a common voice in support of the inclusion of safe and healthy working conditions in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.  

This is a long standing demand by ITUC, and a necessary step to ensure safe and decent jobs. 


Picture credits: HM Shahidul Islam /