globalWith the death toll now exceeding 350, the collapse last week of a factory building in Bangladesh helps focus attention on International Workers’ Day – May 1 -- as well as Workers’ Memorial Day and National Day of Mourning (in Canada), both of which were yesterday but continue to be observed in ceremonies this week.

A representative from the International Labour Organization (ILO) interviewed recently on Vatican Radio said changes must occur in industry and government to assure greater safety for workers.

Seiji Machida, head of the ILO’s SafeWork Programme, said globalization has moved a large amount of manufacturing to developing countries where workplace safety is difficult to assess because statistics are hard to come by in these areas.

Nonetheless, he described safety conditions in developing nations as generally poor.

“These developing countries do not have a strong legal framework, enforcement for safety and health, training, information to support workplace prevention activities,” he explained. “So, there’s a lot to be done and, compared with Europe, in these developing countries, these protection arrangements… are not fully developed.”

While the death of the Bangladeshi workers on April 24 shocked the world, said Machida, it is yet too soon to tell how it will effect change to improve workplace safety.

“Each country, particularly developing countries, needs to reinforce national systems, with proper or better legal protections, inspection enforcement, training. All these supports should be targeted at the workplace level to help employers (and) workers to really manage the risks,” he advised.

“Everyone should think of the issue, of whatever is happening in Bangladesh, or India, China. It’s not in (isolation)… Business is worldwide,” he continued.

Machida underlined the importance of creating a preventative safety and health culture around work. While there is still much awareness-building to do, he said, an increasing number of countries and industries are discussing the importance of a safety culture.

“This is a global concern. And we need to enforce the protection of workers everywhere,” he said, “but particularly in developing countries.”