Safe and healthy working: the road to making it a fundamental principle and right

How a 28-year journey saw United Nations body the International Labour Organization (ILO) feature a safe and healthy working environment in its framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.


The 81st Session of the International Labour Conference, which celebrated the 75th anniversary of the ILO, features a resolution that notes the particular importance of six Conventions covering fundamental rights.


A World Summit for Social Development is held in Copenhagen.


At its 86th Session, the International Labour Conference adopts the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at work. This landmark political statement affirms the obligations and commitments inherent in membership of the ILO and that relate to four core constitutional principles:

  • freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
  • the elimination of all forms of forced labour or compulsory labour
  • the effective abolition of child labour
  • the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The Declaration is hailed as the foundation stone that will allow the ILO its full place in the global economy of the twenty first century” and “the most forward-looking, positive and comprehensive response to the social dimension of trade liberalization.”

The 1998 Declaration is now included in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and is expressly referred to in 70 bilateral or plurilateral free trade and economic partnership agreements.​


IOSH awarded a Royal Charter.


IOSH becomes one of the first international bodies to make the case for occupational safety and health to be a ‘material topic’ for sustainability in all organisations.


The ILO recognises IOSH as an international non-governmental organisation (NGO).


The ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization (known as the “Social Justice Declaration”) joins the 1998 Declaration in symbolising the ILO’s ‘Decent Work Agenda.’


The European Union and its Member States put forward the view that “the ILO should explore the feasibility to include occupational safety and health into the fundamental principles and rights at work.”


IOSH becomes a liaison organisation for ISO 45001.

IOSH signs up to the Vision Zero strategy to eradicate all work-related injuries and illnesses.


The ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work states that “safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work”; the International Labour Conference requests the ILO “to consider, as soon as possible, proposals for including safe and healthy working conditions in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.”


The ILO holds four discussions to examine options and define a way forward, paving the way for an amendment to the 1998 Declaration.


After looking to refer the matter to Conference at its June 2021 session, the Covid-19 pandemic cancels the March 2020 Session and limits the agenda for its 340th Session, held virtually in Autumn 2020.

March 2021

A revised procedural roadmap is approved by the ILO in the build-up to consideration of a possible outcome document at the 2022 Conference.

IOSH joins the UN Global Compact, reinforcing its commitment to building a sustainable future.

In a written statement, IOSH requests the ILO “formalise the right to protect workers from occupational ill health, occupational disease and occupational injury through the promotion of occupational health and safety as one of the fundamental principles and rights of every worker”. It recommends this is done at the earliest available opportunity.

November 2021

The ILO decides to place on the agenda of its 2022 Conference an item regarding the inclusion of safe and healthy working conditions in its framework of principles and rights at work by amending the 1998 Declaration.

March 2022

The ILO considers a draft resolution in the light of detailed information regarding the terminology, the instruments concerned and the possible implications on trade.

April 2022

Consultations are held with a view to refining the text of the draft resolution that could serve as the basis for the 2022 Conference discussions.

June 2022

The ILO Conference decides to amend paragraph 2 of the 1998 Declaration to include the additional fundamental principle on a safe and  healthy working environment. This promotes a human-centred approach to the future of work and reflects a dynamic vision for a rapidly changing world.

Marcus Boocock
PR Lead +44 (0)116 257 3139
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