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Two million people die each year from occupational hazards and diseases – UN expert calls for urgent action

World Day for Safety and Health at Work 28 April 2016

GENEVA (28 April 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, has urged States and businesses to increase efforts to prevent occupational death and disease from hazardous substances. 

“Almost two million people die each year from occupational diseases according to the International Labor Organisation,” Mr. Tuncak said. “And many occupational diseases such as cancer, lung and heart disease, miscarriages, birth defects, and others health impacts result from exposures to hazardous chemicals.”

“Workers are among the most at risk,” the human rights expert warned today, on World Day for Safety and Health at Work (28 April), also known as the International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers. 

The Special Rapporteur noted that while industrial accidents grab headlines, like the recent explosion at a Pemex petrochemical facility in Mexico, which killed over 30 workers, “for most consumers around the world, this is an invisible epidemic of disease and death. But, this is an epidemic that we can, and must, prevent.”

After recent country visits, the expert has reported on the recurring challenges faced by workers suffering from cancer, respiratory diseases, and heart problems brought on by toxics, who are often unable to access an effective remedy. 

“Prevention and precaution must be at the center of efforts by States and businesses to protect workers’ rights,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.  “Unfortunately, the death toll tells a different story.”

NOTE TO EDITORS: The annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April promotes the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally. The 28th of April is also the International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers organized worldwide by the trade union movement since 1996. Its purpose is to honour the memory of victims of occupational accidents and diseases by organizing worldwide mobilizations and awareness campaigns on this date.

Mr. Baskut Tuncak (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. As Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, visit:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/ToxicWastes/Pages/SRToxicWastesIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Melinda Ching-Simon (+ 41 22 917 9113 / mchingsimon@ohchr.org) or write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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