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Prevention: Key to safer workplaces and a healthier workforce

Social security institutions play a determinant role in helping to develop, promote and conduct prevention activities with a view to reducing the number of work-related accidents and diseases and related compensation claims. To support this end, social security institutions have agreed on a broader concept of prevention, framed by international ISSA guidelines.

Prevention approaches and services vary around the world, reflecting different levels of socio-economic development, policies and legal frameworks. Prevention is normally driven by government through occupational safety and health legislation, developed in consultation with the social partners and enforced by competent state authorities, through labour inspection.

Social security institutions in many countries complement these services and contribute to the prevention of occupational risks. As social security institutions are responsible for the compensation of work-related accidents and diseases, and in a number of cases for the rehabilitation of injured workers, they have a strategic interest in contributing to a safe and healthy workforce.

Social security institutions are, in many countries, valuable partners for safety and health authorities as they dispose of detailed data on the insured workers. Such data is of great importance for the preparation of national prevention programmes, in particular for targeting risk areas and for setting priorities, as well as for the evaluation of their impact.

However, in many countries their main focus remains to provide compensation in case of occupational injuries, rather than to engage in their prevention.

Addressing the occupational risks that are insured by social security institutions, the ISSA Guidelines on the Prevention of Occupational Risks offer social security institutions a comprehensive set of prevention concepts and tools to build up prevention capacities, infrastructures, programmes and activities, taking into account their specific national and institutional circumstances.

A broader conception of prevention

These guidelines focus on the prevention of:

  • occupational accidents,
  • occupational diseases
  • work-related health problems

The guidelines form part of a broader concept of prevention which includes proactive and preventive approaches to social security, addressing the prevention of occupational risks, health promotion and return to work.

What do the ISSA Guidelines on the Prevention of Occupational Risks cover?

The guidelines provide measures to assist social security institutions to conduct prevention activities with a view to reducing the number of work-related accidents and diseases and related compensation claims. By including all relevant stakeholders, such as the social partners, government authorities and prevention experts, social security institutions can actively promote a culture of prevention by encouraging improved prevention performance at both enterprise and national levels.

In order to structure and prioritize their occupational safety and health activities, social security institutions establish a prevention framework focusing on four key areas of action: workplace safety and health, safe technology, individual prevention capacities and behaviour, and clear instructions/guidance.

Implementing a workplace prevention strategy

If all areas of action are addressed systematically, continuous improvement in safety and health can be expected. These areas are often enshrined in a prevention strategy, which defines objectives to reduce the number of occupational accidents and diseases within a given timeframe and outlines the cooperation with other actors, including the social partners and safety and health authorities.

According to national safety and health legislation, the prime responsibility for prevention measures at enterprise level lies with the employer. National safety and health systems and policies supervise and support the employer in his or her duties. These systems embrace a tripartite approach based on social dialogue including workers and employers, enforcement of the legal provisions by the competent safety and health authorities (through labour inspection), support provided through occupational health and prevention services, including services provided by social security institutions, etc.

Work injuries and occupational health risks are usually insured under a state-run social security system (e.g. social accident insurance scheme, workers' compensation board, etc.), which in most cases cover both work accidents and occupational diseases. In a number of countries, insurance is not managed by a specialized institution but by a social security fund that covers multiple branches of social security, such as unemployment, pensions, health or family benefits, in addition to work injuries.

In some countries where a compulsory insurance system for occupational risks has not yet been put in place, private-sector schemes exist. Where there is a state-run social security system, private-sector schemes can complement it by insuring those work-related risks that may not be covered by the state system, in some cases, occupational diseases.

Health insurance schemes are also concerned with the prevention of occupational risks. Depending on the duration and nature of the injury or illness, payment of medical benefits for the insured may either be shared between the social security institution and a workers' compensation board or be entirely covered by the health insurance scheme, depending on the provisions of the national social security legislation. As an injury may also lead to disability, pension funds also have an interest in early intervention and the reduction of work-related accidents leading to a disability pension claim.

Further information on the guidelines

The guidelines are organized in two parts:

Part A, Basic Conditions for Prevention Programmes (Guidelines 1–9), deals with the structural issues that need to be addressed if social security institutions are to be able to support and facilitate the development of preventive approaches with and for enterprises.

Part B, Prevention Activities and Services (Guidelines 10–37), deals with specific prevention activities and services that can be offered.

The ISSA Centre for Excellence, launched at the World Social Security Forum in Doha in 2013, fosters the transfer of knowledge among ISSA member organizations to achieve administrative excellence. A central role of the Centre for Excellence is to promote the use of ISSA Guidelines on Social Security Administration, internationally-recognized professional standards in social security administration. By defining the benchmark for improvement, ISSA Guidelines support ISSA member organizations to set objectives for achieving – and maintaining – administrative excellence.


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