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close this bookDeclaration on Occupational Health for All (WHO, 1994, 4 p.)
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View the documentPreamble
View the documentHealth at work - a priority issue
View the documentWay to a new healthy working life

Health at work - a priority issue

According to the best available estimates 100 million workers arc injured and 200 000 die each year in occupational accidents and 68-157 million new cases of occupational disease arc attributed to hazardous exposures or workloads. Such high numbers of severe health outcomes contribute to one of the most important impacts on the health of the world’s population. Occupational in-juries and diseases play an even more important role in developing countries where 70% of the working population of the world lives. By affecting the health of the working population, occupational injuries and diseases have profound effects on work productivity and on the economic and social well-being of workers, their families and dependants. According to recent estimates, the cost of work-related health loss and associated productivity loss may amount to several per cent of the total gross national product of the countries of the world.

The formal workforce constitutes on average 50-60% of a country’s total population. If informal work and work at home are also taken into account, the major part of the population is involved in work. This work products all economic and material values and sustains all other societal activities thus ensuring the socio-economic development of countries.

The Constitution of the WHO, the Alma Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care, the WHO Global Strategy on Health for All, plus the ILO Conventions on Occupational Safety and Health and on Occupational Health Services stipulate among other issues the fundamental right of each worker to the highest attainable standard of health. To achieve this objective, access to occupational health services should be ensured for all workers of the world irrespective of age, sex, nationality, occupation, type of employment, or size or location of the workplace.

Although effective occupational health and safety programmes and many structural changes have improved the conditions of work in some sectors, several hazardous agents and factors such as physical, chemical, biological as well as psychosocial stress in addition to occupational accidents still threaten the health of workers in all countries continuing to cause occupational and work-related diseases and injuries throughout the world. In some economic sectors and in some countries occupational health indicators show even worse trends than in the past.

Although the transfer of healthy and safe technologies has had a positive impact on development, the transfer of hazardous technologies, substances and materials to developing countries, which have insufficient capacity to deal with such problems, constitute a threat both to the health of workers and the environment.

New developments in work, the work environment and work organization, the introduction of new technologies, new chemical substances and materials in all countries, and the growing mechanization and industrialization in developing countries can lead to new epidemics of occupational and work-related diseases and in-juries. In addition, demographic changes in working populations call for new strategies and programmes for occupational health throughout the world.

The level of occupational health and safety, the socio-economic development of the country and the quality of life and well-being of working people are closely linked with each other. This suggests that intellectual and economic inputs in occupational health al-e not a burden but have a positive and productive impact on the company and national economy. Some industries and countries have demonstrated that it is technically feasible and economically productive to prevent and minimize hazards at work.

Thus occupational health is an important factor for sustainable socio-economic development that enables workers to enjoy a healthy and productive life both throughout their active working years and beyond.