In the aftermath of the Horana tragedy where five people were killed allegedly due to negligence in the maintenance of ammonia and other gas tanks at a private rubber factory where export quality shoes are manufactured, the United Nations and its member countries tomorrow mark the World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
It also comes three days before the traditional May Day or labour day, though in Sri Lanka this year the main May Day rallies will be held on Monday May 7 in view of the Vesak week which began yesterday.
This year’s theme is, “occupational safety health vulnerability of young workers”. In a statement the UN says this year, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work and the World Day Against Child Labour are coming together in a joint campaign to improve the safety and health of young workers and end child labour. The campaign aims to accelerate action to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 8.8 of safe and secure working environments for workers by 2030 and SDG target 8.7 of ending child labour by 2025.
About 541 million young workers- in the age group of 15 to 24 and including 37 million children in hazardous child labour - account for more than 15 per cent of the world’s labour force and suffer up to a 40 per cent higher rate of non-fatal occupational injuries than adult workers older than 25, the UN says.
The World Day for Safety and Health at Work is an annual international campaign to promote safe, healthy and decent work. It is held on April 28 and has been observed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) since 2003.
A national occupational safety and health culture is one in which the right to a safe and healthy working environment is respected at all levels, where governments, employers and workers actively participate in securing a safe and healthy working environment through a system of defined rights, responsibilities and duties, and where the highest priority is accorded to the principle of prevention, according to the UN.
The annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28 promotes the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally. It is an awareness-raising campaign intended to focus international attention on the magnitude of the problem and on how promoting and creating a safety and health culture can help reduce the number of work-related deaths and injuries.
Each of us is responsible for stopping deaths and injuries on the job. As governments we are responsible for providing the infrastructure — laws and services — necessary to ensure that workers remain employable and that enterprises flourish; this includes the development of a national policy and programme and a system of inspection to enforce compliance with occupational safety and health legislation and policy. As employers we are responsible for ensuring that the working environment is safe and healthy. As workers we are responsible to work safely and to protect ourselves and not to endanger others, to know our rights and to participate in the implementation of preventive measures, the UN adds.
In Sri Lanka, besides the Horana tragedy, there were three other major incidents of occupational hazards at factories in Dambulla and Ja-ela in March. Two deaths occurred in the Dambulla tragedy showing the need for the government, the employees and the employers to work together in strengthening occupational safety at work places specially for young people.
Hard work is essential for the welfare of ourselves and our country. We need to work in a spirit of honesty and integrity and also work with sincerity and in a sacrificial spirit. Such workers need to be rewarded and as the poet Longfellow said, when we have work to do we need to do it with a will for those who wish to reach the top must first climb the hill.