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Reliable data help protect workers’ lives

Francisco Santos-O’Connor Share:
There is a lack of occupational safety and health protection for construction workers in Cambodia. KT/Chor Sokunthea

This year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work that fell on Friday focuses on the critical need for countries to improve their capacity to collect and utilize reliable occupational safety and health (OSH) data.
Industrial disasters, especially those resulting in multiple fatalities like the recent explosion of a steam generator at a factory in Cambodia make global headlines. But the reality is that in Cambodia and throughout the world, many people die from their work activities every day, and numerous fatalities are unreported or ignored.
According to the latest ILO estimates, 1.4 million work-related deaths occur annually in Asia and the Pacific out of the 2.3 million worldwide.
This means the region accounted for 70 percent of the global fatal occupational accidents and 60 percent of the work-related fatal diseases. Most work-related deaths and non-fatal accidents occur in low- and middle-income countries of the region.
However, in reality, the situation in Asia-Pacific could be even worse as the problem can only be estimated due to the lack of data.
Challenges in collecting OSH data that is accurate, comparable and timely hinder the analysis of scope, nature, causes and impact of occupational accidents and disease.
Official reporting requirements are based on multiple criteria which change over time and do not cover all categories of workers, such as self-employed and informal workers.
In fact, no country reports all work-related diseases. Even countries with well-established reporting practices often do not report all cases, particularly non-fatal injuries or occupational diseases. Therefore, official figures provide only a partial assessment of the situation which to date can be only estimated.
This is also the case in Cambodia.
Cambodia is now one of the fastest growing countries in the world and the Cambodian government has certainly strived to keep up to pace improving OSH related laws and regulations.
The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training updated OSH regulatory frameworks and initiated many new OSH training programmes for workers, employers and government inspectors. However, there are still many challenges ahead, including lack of OSH protection for certain sectors or workers such as the informal economy, small and medium enterprises and migrant workers, weak labour inspection in sectors like construction, and remarkably under-reporting and under coverage of the national OSH data collection system and social security.
Yet, OSH information and analysis is pivotal for devising effective and evidence-based policies and preventive measures both at country and enterprise levels.
Improved OSH data can help secure working environments for all workers by drawing attention on high risk activities and most vulnerable categories of workers. Furthermore, it provides a tool to monitor and assess the needs for and the impact of new OSH policies and also helps labour inspectorates to carry out their preventive mandate.  
Over the past century, measures have been developed to improve OSH reporting and new technologies can facilitate access to timely sources of information on occupational safety and health data.
The ILO and its member states started to work on improving OSH data comparability in 1923, when industrial accident statistics were placed on the agenda of the First International Conference of Labour Statisticians. Moreover, ILO OSH Conventions require ratifying member states to establish mechanisms to collect reliable OSH data and the ILO has also developed tools to support this work.  
The ILO welcomes the opportunity to continue to work with Cambodia’s government and social partners to meet Cambodia’s commitment on the implementation of the objectives of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and obligations under ILO conventions.
Already, a new project on “Enhancing Occupational Safety and Health Standards in the Construction Sector in Cambodia” funded by the ILO/Japan Multi-bilateral Programme, in collaboration with the Cambodian government, workers and employers organizations, has just kicked off to improve OSH of workers and workplaces in Cambodia’s construction sector.
Dr Francisco Santos-O’Connor is the International Labour Organisation’s senior specialist in occupational safety and health.

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