Occupational Health and Safety-a crucial component of decent work

The annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April promotes the prevention of work-related accidents and diseases across the globe. NIR and Swedish Workplace Programme (SWP) emphasises the importance of occupational health and safety as a crucial component of decent work and highlights this opportunity to increase awareness of the importance of creating a safe and healthy work culture.

When you go to work, you assume that you will come home again in the same condition as when you left. Unfortunately, this is not always the case – some employees come home with injuries that affect their and their families’ lives while other employees are not feeling mentally well after a day at work.

Based on ILO estimates, 2.3 million employees die every year from work-related injuries and diseases. An additional 160 million employees suffer from non-fatal work-related diseases and 313 million from non-fatal injuries per year. The economic costs to companies and economies is significant. The ILO estimates that more than four per cent of the world’s annual GDP is lost because of work-related injuries and diseases.

Preventing work-related injuries and diseases is everyone’s responsibility but structures and pre-conditions needs to be in place to ensure that everyone can take on this responsibility. Authorities are responsible for providing institutional structures and laws ensuring occupational health and safety. This includes a national policy and an inspection system to enforce compliance with occupational health and safety laws. Employers are responsible for having OHS workplace policies and ensuring the implementation of these to safeguard their employees’ environment. Employees are responsible for working safely and protecting themselves, not endangering others, knowing their rights, and participating in the implementation of preventive measures.

The pandemic increased the speed in the OHS-work
Occupational health and safety is a crucial component of decent work and a healthy work culture.
Safety and health at work are highlighted on this world day day but is important every day for employees and employers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, representing an unprecedent threat to business, companies saw the importance of quickly adopting new routines to keep their employees safe, not only against the virus but by improving the current safety aspect of the workplace. A[AC1]  structure for dialogue within the workplace where employers, employees and trade union representatives could discuss occupational health and safety measures proved to be a success factor.  Companies already having such a structure in place had the advantage of communicating more effectively to quickly find solutions to address the effects COVID-19 and to continue working safely.

Throughout the pandemic, SWP has invited companies, organisations, trade unions and sustainability experts in a knowledge sharing forum called Sustainable Business Platform, SBP. Participants have discussed short and long-term solutions to occupational health and safety challenges aiming at ensuring a safer work environment and the sustainability of their business.  

During the same period SWP have initiated workplace programmes with companies to set up structures promoting inclusive dialogue in the workplace. The first steps, facilitated by the Regional Programme Coordinator in each market, have been conducting gap analysis, workshops and agree on action plans to improve working conditions and promote a safe and healthy workplace.

Read more about the Sustainable Business Platforms and learn more about the SWP approach in the workplace programmes.

Read about the UN World Day for Safety and Health at work


The pandemic affected the workplaces
Knowledge sharing in SWP’s Sustainable Business Platform

More recent highlights


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lack of enabling environment for social dialogue at the workplace level, despite the provision of legislative acts that protect and promote workplace cooperation is a reoccuring issue  in Kenya. To implement good policy there must be a fertil ground.

Therefore SWP developed the UP!  project. Together with Swedish companies as an entry point, and with unions i South africa and Kenya. 

In Kenya SWP created the SWP UP! Programme targeting skills development of the union Shop Stewards from 18 companies in the Automotive sector in Kenya during 2021. As a result, the Stewards were able to use their skills to build trust and cooperation with management in new ways to avoid conflicts. 

A second cohort of training, in close cooperation with union AUKMW, takes place in 2022.

The training allows shop stewards to step out of their daily routines and understand their role and the purpose of their union, understand the labour market context, the laws that regulate relationships and the business itself. But on a human level, many shop stewards also highlighted that they feel respected as human beings, and that they have developed the skills to engage with supervisors and management and experience respect in professional relations. The experiences had deeply impressed them and helped to project the vision of dialogue and mutual respect and their own potential as a means to change workplaces.

The intervention of the SWP programme had a direct effect at the workplaces, where shop stewards listed several cases where they had managed to intervene and secure results in dialogue with management, avert crises or find solutions based on opportunities and the communication skills obtained during the SWP training. For the Amalgamated Metal Workers Unions in Kenya, the shop stewards pointed to how the training had enabled them to design their own strategies at the workplace in relation to supervisors and staff, and to achieve many concrete results.

Based on this shop steward upskilling, I feel confident that as a union we now have change ambassadors that will grow the industry, protect, and promote decent work principles for both the employer and the employees represented. And that disputes will be dealt with at the workplace level by though consultative dialogue.

Rose Omamo

General Secretary
Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers