Labor in Focus: Advancing Workplace Safety

Posted by Barbara Shailor
May 9, 2013
Bangladeshis Stand in the Rubble at the Site of a Building That Collapsed

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.



Eric J.
United States
May 9, 2013

It seems to me that there must be some mechanism whereby the Dept of State (or the Fed gov) on issuing import licence to US buisinesses could include provision that requires any US company that imports products sold in the US under it's name to inspect and submit written report to the Dept of Labor on the working conditions of those producing goods for them.

 That there be a minimum standard set at or above the standards set by the foreign government where products are made, and that any contract entered into be conditional upon this standard been met and maintained throughout the term of contract. 

  This would serve to ensure that in order to do buisiness with America, worker's rights and safety globally would be protected in greater measure. As well as keeping foreign governments informed of any conditions which endanger their own citizens.

 It is really sad that tragedies like this must occur for those in authority to take the measures neccessary to make sure they don't happen again, but this has been our own experience as a nation in the development of OSHA standards and other legal means to protect the rights, safety, and health of our workforce.


Ashim C.
May 11, 2013
This accident in Bangladesh was indeed tragic but did not exceed Union Carbide's Bhopal Gas tragedy suffering from which still linger on. Reactions to this tragedy are real eye openers. Every body is talking about regulations and accountability. It is not as if regulations and accountability are not there in developing countries but somehow they cannot be adhered to always.. like it or not. This not a happy situation but then accidents like this cannot be valid reasons for clamour for banning imports from developing countries under any pretext just because some jobs have to be created in developed countries. So long as developed countries are wanting to export to developing their goods and services with minor but admittedly significant finasse in technology and presentation at exorbitant costs including IPR related costs, most of which developing countries can do without or manufacture themselves, the developed countries should learnt live with the imperfections of world. If they want to apply their standards, they should do that without exceptions every where. Value of life ought to be treated as same universally therefore compensation for losses in accidents cannot be different as it has been in case victims of Union Carbides's Bhopal Gas tragedy .


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