The 18th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, which concluded in Seoul recently, has far-reaching implications for the well-being of the world’s industrial workforce. On the eve of the meet, 46 professionals and decision-makers, including India’s Labour Secretary, signed the Seoul Declaration that stressed the need for preventive measures. The International Labour Organisation estimates that work-related accidents and diseases kill 2.3 million people worldwide every year. In 2008, the ILO’s Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention (C187) was ratified by three countries: the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Finland. Including Japan, which ratified C187 in 2007, four countries have committed themselves to the convention. This aims at promoting “continuous improvement of occupational safety and health to prevent occupational injuries, diseases and deaths, by the development, in consultation with the most representative organisations of employers and workers, of a national policy, national system and national programme.”

India, which declared 2008 as the Year of Industrial Safety and Health, needs quickly to measure up to global standards. Work-related mortality takes a toll of 400,000 Indian workers every year. More than 350,000 workers suffer from occupational diseases. The country has much to gain from the changed global approach, but it has a long way to go in terms of national structures and implementation. The structural challenges are enormous: the sorry state of implementation of existing safety legislation; the expansion of informal labour; new technologies; and the fast-changing structure of the labour market itself. A new approach to occupational health and safety that factors in effective training, constant monitoring, and strict implementation is the least a country that aspires to become developed owes its workforce.