This photograph shows International Labour Organization Director-General Juan Somavia, left, at the March 25 signing of the list.

ILO Adopts New List of Occupational Diseases

The list is intended to help countries prevent, record, and, if applicable, compensate for diseases caused by work.

The Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) approved a new list of occupational diseases March 25, replacing a list that had been in place since 2002. The list is intended to help countries prevent, record, and, if applicable, compensate for diseases caused by work.

According to ILO, the new list "includes a range of internationally recognized occupational diseases, from illnesses caused by chemical, physical and biological agents to respiratory and skin diseases, musculoskeletal disorders and occupational cancer. Mental and behavioural disorders have for the first time been specifically included in the ILO list. This list also has open items in all the sections dealing with the afore-mentioned diseases. The open items allow the recognition of the occupational origin of diseases not specified in the list if a link is established between exposure to risk factors arising from work activities and the disorders contracted by the worker."

It was created through consultations with member states, negotiations, analysis of emerging occupational risk factors, examination of countries' current practices in recognizing occupational diseases, and review and revision by tripartite meetings of experts. To be considered for the updated list, there has to be a causal relationship with a specific agent, exposure, or work process; the disease has to occur in connection with the work environment and/or in specific occupations and with a frequency among those workers that exceeds the average incidence in the rest of the population; and there must be scientific evidence of a clearly defined pattern of disease following exposure and plausibility of cause.

"Creating safe and healthy working conditions is a challenge to which the ILO has been responding since it was founded in 1919," said Seiji Machida, director of the ILO's Programme on Safety and Health at Work and the Environment (SafeWork). "As our world develops, with new technologies and new patterns of work, the challenges change and new risks emerge. When safety and health measures are not followed or fail, accidents, injuries, diseases, and even deaths may occur. Victims of workplace injuries and occupational diseases have to be compensated properly and prevention actions at workplace are needed so that similar cases will be prevented. This new list of occupational diseases reflects the state-of-the-art development in the identification and recognition of occupational diseases in the world of today. It indicates clearly where prevention and protection should take place. The world's working population and their families will benefit from this new list."

SafeWork has four major goals:

  • preventive policies and programs are developed to protect workers in hazardous occupations and sectors
  • effective protection is extended to vulnerable groups of workers falling outside the scope of traditional protective measures
  • governments and employers' and workers' organizations are better equipped to address problems of workers' well-being, occupational health promotion, and the quality of working life
  • the social and economic impact of improving workers' protection is documented and recognized by policy-makers and decision-makers

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