“Safety and health at work not yet a reality for millions of workers” – UN expert on toxic waste

World Day for Safety and Health at Work, Saturday 28 April 2012

GENEVA (28 April 2012) – UN Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu warned that millions of workers around the world are still exposed to disease and injury in their places of work, and called on countries’ attention to promoting and creating a safe working environment to reduce the number of work-related deaths each year.

“For millions of workers, safety and protection from disease and injury arising from their employment is not yet a reality,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights obligations related to environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste, marking World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

“I am particularly concerned about the exposure to these hazardous substances of children and pregnant women, and call for protection measures to be strictly enforced,” he stressed recalling that “very few States have ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions related to this issue including the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, Asbestos Convention, Safety and Health in Agriculture, and the Occupational Cancer Convention.”

Two million people die every year from work-related accidents and diseases, 160 million people suffer from work-related diseases, 270 million fatal and non-fatal work-related accidents occur per year, and 4% of the world's annual GDP is lost as a consequence of occupational diseases and accidents, according to the ILO.

“Employers face costly early retirements, loss of skilled staff, absenteeism, and high insurance premiums due to work-related accidents and diseases,” Mr. Georgescu said, “yet many of these tragedies are avoidable through the implementation of sound prevention, reporting and inspection practices.”

“I am however pleased to note landmark strides in the jurisprudence in this area with recent judgments by the courts in Italy (Eternit case) and France (Mosanto case), where the companies were held responsible for exposure of workers to hazardous substances, asbestos and pesticides respectively,” he said. “These decisions affirm the duty of manufacturers and employers to adequately inform workers and consumers of the nature and effects of substances they work with.”

Calin Georgescu, the Executive Director of the National Centre for Sustainable Development in Bucharest (Romania), was appointed Special Rapporteur in 2010 by the Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

Learn more on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/ToxicWastes/Pages/SRToxicWastesIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Rebaone Ferguson (+41 22 917 9333 / rferguson@ohchr.org) or write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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