Occupational health

Regional plan on workers' health for the Americas

© PAHO, 2001

With the growing acceptance of the concept of sustainable development, there is an emergent view and global consensus that workers’ health is key to the social and economic development and to the equitable well-being of the human population. In various national, regional and international fora, this issue has been discussed giving rise to resolutions, declarations, policy statements and instruments as well as other mechanisms for its integration into existing institutional systems and arrangements.

Over the last few decades, the adoption of various models of development, technological advancements and industrial changes have all reshaped the landscape of labor. Indeed, shifts from primarily mining and agricultural economies to industrial economies with an emphasis on trade and service activities have modified the composition and profile of the labor sector. Furthermore, there has been a social and economic fallout. In the Americas, this phenomenon is reflected by a steady growth of the informal sector, relatively low wages, greater job insecurity, the involvement of women and children (with marginal returns) and a growing social inequity. These developments coupled with occupational risk factors continue to jeopardize workers’ health. Occupational accidents are one of the byproducts of these trends. In addition, there is now a recognized correlation between specific illnesses and diseases and certain types of work. Hence, the cost of occupational injuries and risks is an additional contributory factor to the social burden. In Bolivia and Panama for example, this cost is estimated at 9.8% and 11% of GDP, respectively.

It is against this background that this Regional Plan on Workers’ Health was conceived. It proposes a multi- faceted, comprehensive and fully integrated approach to the health of workers in the Americas. Its objectives are, mainly:

“To contribute to visible improvements in the work environment, in living conditions, and in the health status as well as in the general well-being of workers by strengthening the technical and institutional capacity of the countries to develop effective prevention and protection policies for workers’ health”.

These objectives are intended to be achieved by focusing on four critical areas of workers’ health; namely, enhancing the quality of the work environment, formulating regulatory policies and legislation, promoting workers’ health, and delivering comprehensive health services. The recommended action plan is expected to be implemented through national, regional, and international cooperation. The Plan underlines the active support and participation of the key players and stakeholders in the region, including civil society, employers, workers, academic and scientific institutions, professionals, the State, as well as organizations working at all levels of action and decision-making.

PAHO has outlined its role and commitment to mobilize resources, empower, support, lead and assist the aforementioned players to bring about this Plan. It views workers’ health as a critical component of its goal and motto: “Health for All ”.

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