World Day for Safety and Health at Workplace

The World Health Organization (WHO) marks the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April every year to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally.
The WHO’s sister organisation, the International Labour Organization (ILO), began to observe World Day in 2003 to raise the political profile of occupational health and safety, and to fulfil the integral ‘advocacy’ component of their Global Strategy on Occupational Safety and Health.

Given that nearly 60% of the global population is engaged in work, the fundamental right of all workers to a safe and healthy environment is one of great importance. Consider how much of our lives are spent in our own workplaces, and it becomes apparent how workplace health and safety takes on the dimensions of a public health concern.
Occupational health encompasses the physical, mental, and social well-being of workers, while preventing workplace-related hazards.

Hazards can lead to occupational diseases that erode workers’ ability to participate in the workforce, and result in increased rates of long-term illness. The WHO’s and ILO estimated that work-related diseases and injuries resulted in 1.88 million deaths in 2016.
The WHO South-East Asia Region (SEAR) faces a disproportionately high burden of work-related mortality, with 36.5 deaths per 100,000 of the working population. Occupational risks also rank as the third-largest environmental risk factor for disease estimates in the region.

Informal workers in the region face significant challenges due to poor working conditions and limited social protection. They are disproportionately vulnerable to economic shocks and lack adequate workplace protections, exacerbating the impact of workplace injuries.
The impact of climate change on occupational health has also recently emerged as a concern. Climate-related hazards, particularly extreme weather events, limit work output and duration, and pose risks to workers’ health and safety.

Health and safety also goes beyond physical concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the urgent need to address mental health issues in the workplace. A safe and healthy working environment supports mental health, and good mental health of course enables people to work productively. Issues such as depression and anxiety are pervasive in workplaces, impacting productivity and performance. When left untreated, the economic cost is estimated at US$1 trillion annually.

Effective organisational policies, early detection of health issues, health screening, and preventive care contribute to a safety net and increase health awareness for workers.
Ensuring better occupational health and safety rests on partnerships and collaboration.
The Regional Plan of Action for the WHO Global Strategy on Health, Environment, and Climate Change (2020-2030) emphasises collaboration between health and labour ministries to comprehensively address occupational health.

Collaboration between these health and employment sectors is crucial for protecting vulnerable segments of society. Non-contributory social protection systems are also essential for safeguarding informal workers from the economic consequences of workplace injuries.
Occupational health must be prioritised in order to achieve sustainable growth, inclusive development, and resilience to climate change vulnerabilities – as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

The need for creating positive healthy workplaces is self-evident. The returns of such endeavours positively impact businesses, organisations and societies collectively, and people individually.

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