The collapse of an eight-story factory building in Bangladesh that killed over 600 garment workers two weeks ago is among the worst manufacturing disasters in history and remains a tragic reminder of the human consequences of poor working conditions in which millions of workers labor every day. The United States actively engages with the highest levels of the Government of Bangladesh, exporters and buyers on the issues of workers’ rights and safe working conditions, and we are heartened by the recent high-level International Labor Organization (ILO) Mission to Bangladesh, which highlighted important steps to improve worker rights.
Work place safety is a challenge around the world. Workers Memorial Day on April 28 World Day for Safety and Health at Work reminded us of the needless deaths of innocent men and women who get up every morning and go to work in unsafe factories, fields, and mines. Many jobs are unregulated and uncontrolled.
The ILO reports that 2.02 million people die each year from work-related diseases, and 321,000 people die each year from occupational accidents. Moreover, 160 million are affected by non-fatal work-related diseases per year, and 317 million non –fatal occupational accidents occur per year. This means that every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease. Every 15 seconds, 151 workers have a work-related accident.
As the ILO states, "deaths and injuries take a particularly heavy toll in developing countries, where a large part of the population is engaged in activities, such as agriculture, construction, fishing and mining that are made hazardous because of unsafe working conditions."
In his Workers Memorial Day Proclamation, President Obama declared, "Today, our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost a loved one to a workplace accident or work-related illness. But we owe them more than prayers. We owe them action and accountability. While we cannot eliminate all risk from the world's most dangerous professions, we can guarantee that when a worker steps up to an assembly line or into a mine shaft, their country stands alongside them, protecting their safety and their health."
About the Author: Barbara Shailor serves as U.S. Special Representative for International Labor Affairs.