Occupational hazards can affect all workers not withstanding gender, age or type of occupation. It is one of the major problems faced by workers and their employers especially those who are engaged in occupation that require the operation of machineries or exposure to hazardous environments. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 270 million workers every year suffer from occupational injuries while 160 million have contacted work-related diseases. It is only logical to think that work related accidents happen due to factors such as poor working conditions, insufficient training, lack of protective gears and of course, machine and human error among many others. In a research conducted by Salminen, he found that young workers have higher risk of occupational injury though most of these injuries are not fatal or non-serious as compared to the less frequent but more fatal injuries of older workers .
Women, on the other hand, are not immune to occupational hazards. Though in terms of gender, men pose higher risk for occupational injuries as compared to women. However, the current trends of employment are significantly changing the role of women in terms of occupational hazard. In Guangdong province, for example, where most of China’s exports are made, women usually far outnumber men on labour-intensive production lines. According to observers, “Rural women are hired for their supposed docility, nimble fingers and attention to mind-numbing detail” (The Economist, 2013). Workplace safety is a global concern and efforts to address this issue have been undertaken in international and state laws and regulations. The main purpose of these laws and regulations is to set a guide or perhaps standardize the occupational health and safety practices and protect the individual from occupational hazards.
International Law on Occupational Safety and Health
The international law regarding occupational safety and health has been founded in the Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations General Assembly in 1948. As stated in this article, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. This right has been expounded to convey the right of every worker for self-preservation. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment is a universal requirement that must be observed by all concerned parties. Occupational safety and health also reflects in constitution of the World Health Organization. In the WHO preamble, it states that “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being”. Though there is a consensus among international organization about the importance of occupational safety and health, its implementation could not be carried out efficiently in the international level.
The effectiveness of the international law regarding workplace safety depends largely on bilateral cooperation of governments and private organizations. It should be noted though that most countries have their own laws regarding occupational safety and health that is basically patterned to the universal declaration of human rights of the United Nations. However, the significance of international regulation regarding occupational safety and health is that international organizations such as the ILO and the U.N. may place pressure or sanctions to countries that do not adhere to these standards. The countries, on the other hand, could impose sanctions to organizations and concerned parties that operate within their jurisdiction according to their existing laws whenever violations are observed.
Occupational Safety and Health in the United States
The U.S. congress has enacted a legislation that protects employees from occupational hazards with the passing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). This act has been made into law on December 29, 1970 under the administration of President Richard M. Nixon. The act serves as the main statute regarding workplace safety in the United States on a Federal level. Though most states maintain their own laws regarding Occupational Safety and Health, the Federal law supersedes the State laws whenever conflict between the two arises. Provisions under this act are extensive which covers a wide range of occupation including the responsibilities of the employer and the employees. The main provision under this act is the accountability of employees to provide a safe working environment for their workers. Workers on the other hand are required to comply with the safety regulations. The Secretary of Labor has been mandated to oversee the compliance of the legislation and to impose sanctions for those who violate its provisions. The Secretary may investigate and authorize inspection of workplace to ensure adherence to the regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The Secretary may also impose fines, demand restriction or sue concerned parties whenever a violation is committed. Under this act, a worker may refuse to work without adversely affecting his employment if provisions on workplace safety are not met.
It is a universal truth that every individual has the right to life and self-preservation. Subjecting workers to unsafe and hazardous working conditions is clearly a violation of this right. Any employer that violates this right is accountable under the international law as well as occupational safety and health regulations in the country that he operates. The United States is one of the countries that have a long history of workplace safety regulations. With the passing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the United States has taken a huge step in minimizing and perhaps the eventual elimination of workplace injuries and health hazards.
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Feitshans, I.L. (2011). Occupational Health as a Human Right. Retrieved July 2014, from http://www.ilo.org/: http://www.ilo.org/oshenc/part-iii/resources-institutional-structural-and-legal/item/216-occupational-health-as-a-human-right
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Salminen, S. (2004). Have young workers more injuries than older ones? An international literature review. Journal of Safety Research, 35, 513-521.
The Economist. (2013, May). Girl power. Retrieved January 2014, from http://www.economist.com/: http://www.economist.com/news/china/21577396-supply-female-factory-workers-dwindles-blue-collar-women-gain-clout-girl-power
US Department of Labor. (2009, January). Reflections on OSHA’s History. Retrieved July 2014, from www.osha.gov: https://www.osha.gov/history/OSHA_HISTORY_3360s.pdf