Bernhard Jansen, Director
4th US-EU Joint Conference on Occupational Safety and Health
Orlando (Florida), 14-16 September 2005
Mr. Witt, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to join all of you today here in Orlando for the opening plenary session of this 4th US/EU Joint Conference on Occupational Safety and Health.
On behalf of the European Commission, I am honoured to bring you personal greetings from Mr Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, and our Director-General Mrs Quintin. Both of them have asked me to extend to each of you their best wishes for a very lively and successful conference.
In this connection, I would also like to thank the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the US Department of Labour for the wonderful organisation of this event and for hosting it in such a beautiful place.
In particular, let me single out for special thanks Mrs DeMesme-Gray and her team for their valuable help and assistance in making this fourth bilateral tripartite conference possible.
We are all grateful for your efforts to make things run smoothly and to enable us to work effectively and efficiently together.
While I am delighted to share with you this three-day conference, we cannot ignore the tragedy and the sufferings of the thousands of US citizens cruelly hit by Hurricane "Katrina", which devastated the city of New Orleans two weeks ago.
On behalf of the European Commission, let me therefore express to all of you – distinguished heads of delegation and representatives of government, labour and industry from the United States of America – my deepest sympathy for the victims of this tragedy and my hope that hurricane relief efforts will rapidly turn into a rebirth of this extraordinary city and of the entirety of the Gulf area.
The conference we are opening today is the fourth event of this kind, resulting from the implementation of the 1995 New Transatlantic Agenda in the field of occupational safety and health.
Three joint conferences have already been organised since 1998, in Luxembourg, San Francisco and Lemnos respectively. These meetings have set an important transatlantic partnership in motion, providing all of us on both sides of the Atlantic with valuable opportunities for improving co-operation in this area of crucial importance for the future of our economic and social policies.
I firmly believe that this conference in Orlando will further give us an opportunity to deepen and broaden this co-operation.
Our priorities are indeed, as in the past, to learn from each other by sharing our knowledge and experience, and to make advances in our capacity of partnership.
As a result of our successful efforts in establishing ongoing dialogue and exchange of information, this week we will hear updates on topics that were opened in the earlier 2003 meeting in Lemnos, such as the two pilot projects on "Global Management of Chemicals" and "Voluntary Protection Programmes" (VPP).
At the same time, we will go into new topics, such as "Advancing OSH Good Practices at Corporate Level", "Immigrant Workers' Safety and Health" and "Contractor Safety", on which I trust we have some helpful ideas to share as well.
The protection of workers against sickness, disease and injury related to their work environment is a common concern for those involved in framing and implementing workplace policies in both the European Union and the United States.
We are all aware of the magnitude of the global impact of occupational accidents and diseases in terms of both human suffering and related economic costs.
Based on data available from various sources, the ILO estimates the worldwide fatality level from work-related injuries and diseases to be about 2 million annually, and the overall annual rate of occupational fatal and not fatal accidents at 270 million, 160 million workers being affected from work-related diseases.
The related economic costs due to compensation, lost working time, interruption of production, training, medical expenses and the like are estimated routinely to amount to 4% of annual global GDP, thus representing in 2001 the enormous figure of some USD 1,250,000 million.
Against this background, concerns have also been expressed that the globalisation of the economy may exacerbate some of the factors contributing to casualties and ill health at work. The effects of demographic factors and dynamics, employment shifts and work organisation changes, gender differentiation, immigration, the size, structure and life cycles of enterprises, the fast pace of technological progress, are examples of the key issues that can generate new types of patterns of hazards, exposure and risks.
The development of an appropriate response to these issues should rely on and make use of the collective body of knowledge, experience and good practice in this area.
This is the reason why our commitment to partnering with our US counterparts remains steadfast. We need to know what works in order to share effective approaches and better focus our efforts on behalf of working men and women on both continents.
In this regard, the fostering and promotion of a common preventive safety and health culture is a fundamental basis for improving OSH performance in the long term.
The promotion of such a preventive culture is at the core of the current European Community Strategy on Health and Safety at Work, and it will continue to be also in the frame of the new OSH Community Strategy we are currently planning for the period 2007-2012
Building and maintaining a preventive safety and health culture require making use of all available means to increase general awareness, knowledge and understanding of the concepts of hazards and risks and how they may be prevented or controlled.
In this regard, I believe that the tripartite profile of our partnership and long-standing co-operation represents the ideal framework for enhancing our capacity of dialogue and integration while improving comparability of our respective OSH management systems.
Building a common framework of OSH preventive culture requires in fact at least three essential commitments: a commitment from enterprises to implement occupational health and safety management systems; a commitment for participation and involvement in such systems by the workers themselves, and in this era of economic globalisation, a political commitment to create a worldwide framework so that local action on safety and health is not undermined by macrosystemic disturbances and incoherence.
This commitment is icastically expressed by the title of the XVIIth World Congress on Safety and Health and Work, which is due next week here in Orlando, in direct connection with our conference: "Prevention in a Globalised World – Success through Partnership".
Indeed, we want to reinforce our partnership in order to be successful in mastering globalisation for the benefit of our fellow-citizens' occupational safety and health.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is in the spirit of this political commitment that I look forward to a fruitful and lively exchange during this three-day conference.
I thank you for your kind attention and I wish you a very pleasant and productive meeting.