Tuesday, 03 May 2011 10:26

Preface to the Fourth Edition (1998)

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It is a sobering thought that the prefaces to the preceding editions of this Encyclopaedia are still timely: occupational illnesses and injuries remain an unnecessary blight on the human landscape. Much progress has been made since the publication of the first edition of this work. Exposure to some extremely dangerous poisons, such as the deadly radium painted on watch faces to make them glow in the dark, or the crippling and disfiguring phosphorus that had been used as the combustible material in matches, have been completely eradicated. Governments have established regulations and have undertaken many noteworthy actions to guard against the entirely preventable tragedies of occupational death, disease and disability. The level of knowledge among all our constituents is vastly improved. The ILO itself has contributed to this progress with Conventions, Recommendations and Codes of Practice governing many workplace conditions, as well as with its many technical cooperation programmes and specialized publications. Equally important, the capability of medicine, science and engineering to solve problems, and to provide better means of recognition and of hazard prevention has dramatically increased. Social systems are in place for worker protection and for worker participation in decisions relating to their work environments.

Yet, despite tireless efforts to promote better working conditions, the ILO and others must still combat many forms of exploitation of working people, such as child labour, indentured servitude and clandestine work, with their inevitably hazardous and oppressive conditions. Tens of millions of others labour while exposed to chemical, physical and social hazards which drain their health and their spirits. Solutions to such problems of occupational injury and illness will not arise simply from issuing publications or obtaining advice from experts. The health and well-being of workers is an issue of social justice and the ILO stands above all for the ideal of promoting social justice in the world. Ultimately solutions are social as much as technical. It is not merely the lack of know-how that perpetuates the toll of death, disability and disease in the working population, it is the lack of the social means and the social will to do something about it. The societal basis for occupational safety and health is perhaps the most important reason for the ILO to publish the Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety. With its publication we present a panorama of the problems, and their technical and social solutions: we define the fields for action.

The Encyclopaedia’s popularity and influence have been enormous. Tens of thousands of copies have been in use throughout the greater part of this century. Earlier editions have been published in Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Hungarian and Serbo-Croatian. The Encyclopaedia is the most widely distributed publication of the ILO. The process of compiling the fourth edition has continued the tradition of reaching out to world experts, which the Office sees as essential to its continued growth and relevance. We have assembled a network of more than 2,000 specialists from over 65 countries who have extensively contributed their time, energy and expertise to the writing and reviewing of articles and the editing of chapters. Most major health and safety institutions, governmental, academic or private, from around the world, are contributing in one form or another to this immense undertaking, an act of generosity and support for which we are grateful. The hope and the intent is that this Encyclopaedia provide technical, theoretical and ethical underpinnings to the ongoing work of achieving the goal of social justice in a global economy.

Michel Hansenne
International Labour Office
Geneva, 1998

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