Join in building a culture of prevention

2015 World Day for Safety and Health at Work, April 28
Photo: iStockphoto

Preventing risk has always been a policy priority for social security. The dominant emphasis in this regard has fallen traditionally on workplace risk prevention. In recent years, a growing wider understanding also of the importance of non-workplace risk factors in health and well-being has led to a sea change in outlook among social security and occupational safety and health practitioners. This change is reflected in the International Labour Organization's chosen theme of the 2015 World Day for Occupational Safety and Health calling for a culture of prevention.

The 2008 Seoul Declaration of the XVIII World Congress on Safety and Health stands as a watershed: it marks when efforts to build a culture of prevention truly became a mainstream international agenda. Pushing this agenda further into the global spotlight, the focus of the 2015 World Day for Occupational Safety and Health makes a call to widen support, both in and outside of the workplace, for the building of a culture of prevention.

At the global level, the International Social Security Association has supported these efforts for many years, along with other bodies such as the International Labour Organization, World Health Organization and European Commission. The ISSA Special Commission on Prevention and the ISSA's 13 international sections on prevention, among other objectives, promote a preventive safety and health culture through cooperation that is aligned with the Seoul Declaration on Safety and Health at Work, providing a platform to enhance a worldwide prevention culture.

The Seoul Declaration on Safety and Health at Work1

Adopted on 29 June, 2008, by representatives of governments, multinational companies, social security organizations, safety and health bodies, employers and workers, the Declaration presents a framework for building a global culture of safety and health at work. At its core, a safe and healthy working environment should be recognized as a fundamental human right. Of primacy is the role of social security organizations in promoting prevention and in providing treatment, support, and rehabilitation services.

Against this background, the 2015 World Day message, to accompany the continuing efforts of social security and occupational safety and health (OSH) bodies, is clear: only through a holistic culture of prevention can Vision Zero – the eradication of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities – be achieved.

The messages behind Vision Zero in the workplace2

Fatalities are not fated;
Accidents do not just happen;
Illness is not random:
They are caused.

A culture of prevention: Top down and bottom up

Conventionally, the promotion of prevention measures has often tended to be a predominantly top-down process, led by mandated institutions, employers and workers' representatives. While important, this approach is incomplete. As the 2015 World Day draws attention to, the need to better ensure effective prevention is a holistic process, involving equally bottom-up processes too – all social actors and, indeed, workers and individuals have a role to play in building a culture of prevention.

ISSA: A global ambassador for prevention

Globally, estimates suggest that 160 million new occupational disease cases occur annually and over 2.3 million people die each year from work-related accidents and diseases, with an immeasurable human cost. For the global economy, it is estimated that around 4 per cent of GDP is lost annually as a result of occupational accidents. The preservation of the health of every worker, indeed of every human being, is thus a key social and economic objective of social security.

The moral case in favour of prevention is irrefutable. The economic case, the so-called "return on prevention", is also solid. Studies reveal that investments in prevention of occupational accidents made by enterprises not only reduce risk but offer a positive financial return. For instance, the average cost/benefit ratio for investment in prevention is estimate to be a strong 1:2.2. Even more encouragingly, investments in preventive medical check-ups and in prevention training measures generate cost/benefit ratios of 1:7.6 and 1:4.4, respectively.

As regards applying prevention activities in the area of workplace health promotion, reductions of around 25 per cent in sick leave, health-plan costs and workers' compensation and disability insurance costs are deemed possible. In specific cases, the gains stemming from the Malaysian return-to-work programme outweigh costs by a ratio of 1.43:1, while in Switzerland Suva's disability management programme has reduced the number of disability pensions by 47 per cent.

Society-wide prevention measures conducted by social security institutions are likely to have a great positive return.

On all counts, therefore, prevention is the highest priority. In support of this, the ISSA is fully committed as an engaged prevention ambassador. The ISSA's encompassing three-dimensional prevention strategy covers the prevention of occupational risks, supporting return to work, and workplace health promotion.

The ISSA not only advocates the message of prevention internationally but helps guide national social security administrations in their day to day efforts to build a culture of prevention as part of the delivery of their mandated responsibilities.

Most specifically, this is achieved through the rollout of ISSA Academy workshops orchestrated through the ISSA's Centre for Excellence and organized around ISSA guidelines on social security administration.

Across the expanding repertoire of ISSA guidelines, three in particular have a strong prevention focus: Guidelines on Prevention of Occupational Risks3; Guidelines on Workplace Health Promotion4; Guidelines on Return to Work and Reintegration5. These ISSA guidelines are anchored on the understanding that a true culture of prevention for the twenty-first century must address work- and nonwork-related risks, including the rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases.

ISSA Academy workshops, among other aims, enable national social security administrations to identify and define in their own terms those operational areas where there is a need to strengthen the role of prevention. As a defined workshop outcome, a plan of action is developed to help participating social security administrations progressively realize improvements based on internationally-recognized good practice.

Progressive realization

The progressive realization of a culture of prevention addresses not only the key challenge of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities worldwide but makes the essential holistic link between work- and nonwork-related risks.

At the centre of this debate is a "new normal" in prevention: each individual has a right to be safe and healthy in order to be able to contribute to society. As occupational and non-occupational risks are seen to be often inseparable, where risk sources can no longer be identified solely with the workplace (e.g. back pain or psychosocial incapacities), a more global view on health and employability is required, involving all societal actors to promote a global culture of prevention.

While in the context of the 2015 World Day for Occupational Safety and Health the workplace is commonly prioritized as the principal interface for advocating the value of prevention, the ISSA is intent to develop and promote the knowledge base affirming that a culture of prevention engenders the improved well-being of all.


1. ILO; ISSA; KOSHA. 2008. Seoul Declaration on Safety and Health at Work (XVIII World Congress on Safety and Health at Work: Safety and Health Summit, Seoul, 29 June). Seoul, Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency; Geneva, International Labour Office, International Social Security Association.
2. ILO. 2003. Safety in numbers: Pointers for global safety culture at work. Geneva, International Labour Office.
3. ISSA. 2013. ISSA Guidelines on Prevention of Occupational Risks. Geneva, International Social Security Association.
4. ISSA. 2013. ISSA Guidelines on Workplace Health Promotion. Geneva, International Social Security Association.
5. ISSA. 2013. ISSA Guidelines on Return to Work and Reintegration. Geneva, International Social Security Association.

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