All the World’s a Stage
AIHA Hosts Successful International Conference
By Kay Bechtold and Ed Rutkowski
In September, AIHA hosted the International Scientific Conference of the International Occupational Hygiene Association. It was the first time IOHA’s flagship event was held in the United States. More than 500 attendees representing 36 countries attended the conference in Washington, D.C. Below are highlights from a few of the conference’s 57 educational sessions. For more coverage of IOHA 2018, visit AIHA's website. OHS AS SOCIAL JUSTICE At the keynote address on Sept. 24, Nancy Leppink, a minister with the International Labor Organization, called on occupational health and safety professionals to be instruments of social justice. Throughout its history, the ILO has promoted social justice by calling for the abolition of child labor and setting hundreds of workplace standards. Over several decades, the ILO’s successes in helping establish workplace health and safety laws in developing nations contributed to uneven but measurable progress. But the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 workers, was a horrifying reminder that many parts of the world still lacked basic workplace protections. “Rana Plaza is an example of a globalization train wreck,” Leppink said.
The tragedy resulted in part from lax enforcement of building safety codes. In Rana Plaza’s aftermath labor rights organizations drew attention to the role of incentives within global supply chains, which too often inhibit, rather than encourage, workplace protections. In 2015, the ILO launched a program called the Vision Zero Fund to focus on those incentives. “There are many influences in the context of global supply chains that can drive change in occupational safety and health,” Leppink told IOHA attendees. She described an ILO study of a plantation in the developing world where workers often brought family members, including children, to work alongside them, exposing them to the same work-related hazards. ILO personnel discovered that the practice was driven by bonuses offered by the plantation owner, who was himself motivated by production-related incentives within the supply chain. Protecting workers in this context requires reorienting layers of incentives toward safety and health in addition to profit. To prevent tragedies like Rana Plaza, Leppink said, occupational health and safety professionals need to do  To prevent tragedies like Rana Plaza, Leppink said, occupational health and safety professionals need to do more than simply work for change from within their own companies. “For some time, we’ve thought we need to make the business case for OSH,” Leppink said, but Rana Plaza shows that the business case “quickly evaporates in times of crisis. In the end, I believe we must simply have the courage to stand up for it—to stand up for social justice, and to demand that courage from our leaders.”