Greta stated she first heard about climate change at the age of eight, and could not understand why so little was being done about it. At the 2018 TEDxStockholm, she spoke of her time realizing that climate change existed while wondering why it was not headline news on every channel, “as if there was a world war going on”.
Let us leave this story for a moment and turn back to the working world, which is our scope as OSH specialists. We all know there are accidents at work, and people are dying from diseases triggered at the jobsite. Do those make headlines? Occasionally. “18 year old killed after machine safeguard defeated”. “Man dies after 20 m fall from scaffold.” “Construction worker killed by excavator moving backwards.” As opposed to many other topics, the articles typically consist of a few lines. The same goes for road accidents, which are our business as well in prevention – whether driving is part of someone’s job, or whether they commute to work.
Are occupational diseases covered in the media? Scattered; if they are, sometimes in conjunction with economic consequences due to legal action. To a much lesser extent as a major call for action.
Aside from media coverage, how much focus does OSH enjoy in our awareness and methods? Say, in higher education? I spoke to a member of our prevention team who just concluded eight books on human resource and organization in his master studies after work. How many instances of occupational health and safety did he encounter in the comprehensive spectrum of corporate culture, strategy and operation the books discussed? The answer is: None.
It seems we take health and safety for granted and see the incidents as random events; accidental, inevitable. Maybe even as bad luck.
Actually, I am afraid, they are a consequence of negligence, and I am afraid the scale is way too large to be taken this lightly.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that some 2.3 million women and men around the world die due to work-related accidents or diseases every year (1); this means over 6,000 deaths every single day.
This session is scheduled to run two hours; statistically, 500 persons will die as a consequence of work while we are gathered here, in this two hour session alone. Let me say this again: 500 people dying in two hours. 18,000 will die statistically during the course of OSHAfrica, throughout the world.
Fatalities are the most severe end of the accident pyramid, but there is more. Even the survivors are facing incapacitating injuries and diseases, such as amputations, paralysis, loss of senses and motor skills. People losing their income as a source to supply themselves and their families.
Worldwide, the ILO states, there are around 340 million occupational accidents and 160 million victims of work-related illnesses per year. The ILO updates these estimates at intervals, and the updates indicate an increase of accidents and ill health.
In 2012, we called for VISION ZERO as ISSA Mining. VISION ZERO is the vision of a world without occupational accidents and work-related diseases. Its highest priority is to prevent fatal and serious work accidents and occupational diseases.
To critics, we sounded overambitious. How can you avoid every single fatality? Are accidents not a part of work, always have been, always will be? It is actually pretty hard to find a fatal accident that was inevitable, that could not have been prevented with proper action beforehand.
And what is more: What other aim should you pursue in your prevention strategy? How many deaths would be acceptable? Say, in a population of 80 million like Germany: 300 fatalities per year? We never got this low in history, could we be content with this figure? No, we could not. Or 200? Would 50 be okay? Could you honestly relay the sad message to the family members of the victim of a fatal accident and add “But all in all, we are more than pleased with our safety record”?
“Visions are strategies of action. This distinguishes them from utopia.”: This is what former German President Roman Herzog said 1998 in a wake-up call to the nation, and this goes for our interpretation of VISION ZERO alike.
In our role as prevention experts we were able to learn a lot, and in the ISSA Mining network we had the privilege of finding out what some of the best operations around the world did to get closer or even reach “zero” in safety and health. We extracted what we believe to be the core success factors for prevention, and we systemized them into what we called “The Seven Golden Rules for Safe Mining”.
The ideas are not plainly academic, they stem from a sound industry base. What came out of the new arrangement was evaluated and added to by 1,000 experts and experienced industry professionals. We received excellent feedback on the result (Figure 1) and three years later, the than 13 prevention sections of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) adapted the concept as their core strategy for its entire prevention work, for all sectors of industry, all around the world. In 2017, VISION ZERO was launched by the ISSA at the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Singapore, spreading like a wildfire. In less than two years, 6,000 supporters committed publicly to VISION ZERO.
Greta Thunberg raises global awareness of the problems posed by climate change, and all over the world, students pick up her initiative in the “Fridays for Future” movement. How is this related to us today?
Millions of young people all across the world realize it is time for action, and time to overcome a passiveness shown too long. This generations reminds us once more that sometimes more needs to be done, and can be done, to avoid harm. So, where is our Greta? What can be done to motivate the youth for VISION ZERO? When will we get “Fridays for VISION ZERO”? “Zero Harm” is the common aim, and I feel privileged to work towards such a meaningful goal. As of now, I could not think of anything more valuable than to work for human life and integrity.