The International Labour Organization has elevated occupational health and safety to the status of a “fundamental right” for the world’s workers, a “historic” decision that will mean new obligations for member states.

Almost three million people die each year from work-related causes, the UN agency said.

“The adoption of the inclusion of a safe & healthy working environment in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles & rights at work is an important step to prevent these unacceptable losses,” the ILO tweeted.

The “Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work”, adopted in 1998, already enshrined the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, the effective abolition of child labour and an end to discrimination in workplaces.

Under the 1998 declaration, all 187 ILO member states, regardless of their level of economic development, committed to the agreed principles and rights.

Friday’s announcement means they must now also “commit to respect and promote the fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions,” the ILO said on its website.

The new rules will be backed up by a “follow-up procedure” involving annual reports on the progress and obstacles of each country towards the new goal.

The “historic” decision is “critically important,” tweeted ILO head Guy Ryder.

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By Peter