Groups Push for Workers' Protection against Occupational Diseases

The Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) and the EcoWaste Coalition today appealed for concerted action that will protect the nation’s workforce against occupational diseases.

In a joint statement to mark the “World Day for Safety and Health at Work,” the groups echoed the call by the International Labour Organization (ILO) for a holistic prevention-focused action to address the growing burden of occupational diseases.

According to the ILO, some 2.34 million people die each year from work-related accidents and diseases of which an estimated 2.02 million people die from a wide range of work-related diseases.

“Our workers need not suffer from occupational diseases as they toil in construction sites, factories, landfills, farms, mines and other work places.  There must be an effective way to prevent work-related ailments and deaths that will uphold the workers’ health rights, especially for those employed in hazardous jobs,” said Josua Mata, Secretary-General of APL. 

“With the participation of the workers and their unions, the cooperation of the employers and the genuine enforcement of labor laws and standards, we’ll prevail over old and new occupational health maladies,” he added.

Gie Relova, Secretary-General of BMP for the National Capital Region, said that “occupational diseases pose a real burden for workers and their families many of whom are already having troubles in making both ends meet.”

“The government should institute effective programs that will tackle the root causes of such diseases and provide workers with accessible and adequate support.  Protecting workers’ health against occupational diseases is our collective responsibility,” he said.

Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect, warned that “if we do not act with urgency and resolve, workers who are engaged in dangerous jobs and exposed to harmful chemical substances might end up joining the global estimate of 5,500 deaths daily due to occupational diseases.”

“We ask the government to generate and disclose data on occupational diseases, including sex-disaggregated data, to help our society fully understand the problem and the steps needed to prevent them,” he suggested.

“As a group advocating for zero waste and chemical safety, we want our workers protected from all hazards that can ruin their health, productivity and future,” he emphasized.

The ILO report, “The Prevention of Occupational Diseases,” pointed out that over two million workers die yearly, or an average of 5,500 deaths daily, due to work-related diseases. The ILO also estimates that 160 million cases of non-fatal work-related diseases occur annually.

The ILO warned that millions of workers continue to be at risk of pneumoconioses due to
exposure to silica, coal, asbestos and that their associated illnesses (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, TB, cancer) often cause disability and death. Asbestos-related diseases include asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The ILO also noted that new forms of occupational diseases such as musculoskeletal and
mental health disorders  are increasing without adequate preventive, protective and control measures.

ILO is calling for a comprehensive “paradigm of prevention” that focuses on occupational diseases and not only on injuries.

“This new paradigm must underscore a set of principles: that just because the problem is difficult to tackle, it cannot be ignored; that the recognition, prevention and treatment of occupational diseases as well as the improvement of recording and notification systems must be high priorities; that enhancing national safety and health programmes is essential to the health of both individuals and the societies they live in,” the ILO explained.