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ILO Meeting of Experts adopts a new Code of Practice to improve safety and health in shipbuilding and ship repair


Representatives of governments and the social partners from around the world gathered at the ILO from 22 to 26 January 2018 to adopt a revised code of practice on safety and health in shipbuilding and ship repair.

The new code reflects the many changes in the industry, including the use of robotic systems, over the last 43 years since an earlier code was adopted by the ILO. It focuses on the need for a preventive approach based on occupational safety and health (OSH) management systems, management of change and safe work plans among others.

Participants emphasized the importance of improving occupational safety and health (OSH) in shipbuilding and ship repair. Improved OSH performance will reduce injury rates and fatalities as well as associated economic costs to affected families and societies. It will also contribute to higher productivity and growth and to a safer and greener sector, and reduce human suffering related to OSH incidents.

“Having worked in the industry for more than 25 years, I can personally attest to the fact that the adoption of the revised Code of Practice is a milestone in the shipbuilding and ship repair sector”, the Chairperson of the meeting, Mr César Gomez, said. “While our past efforts to improve safety and health in the industry have given rise to better practices, there are still many hazards that are not yet fully eliminated or controlled. I am proud of the spirit of tripartite collaboration in these negotiations; it is fully appreciated that protecting workers will protect the much-needed investments in this industry.”

The Code of Practice has been updated to capture significant advances in the industry, from the increased use of robots to the implementation of OSH management systems at shipbuilding and ship repair facilities.

“It is in everyone’s interest that the workers that come to work in our shipyards will work in safe and healthy work environments”, said the employers’ vice-chair person, Mr Warrick Williams.

The revised Code of Practice contains comprehensive and detailed guidance on how to improve OSH in the industry, including the rights of workers to know about the risks they face, the right to participate fully in addressing those risks to their safety and health, and the right to remove themselves from hazardous work situations. “We face huge OSH challenges in the industry, and we have too often witnessed the loss of lives”, said Deborah Vallance, the vice-chairperson representing the workers group. “The Code of Practice is comprehensive and sound, and it is now our shared responsibility to ensure that it is applied.”

Speaking for the government group, Ms Wenhui Fei and Ms Teniola Fayemi added: “With this Code of Practice on safety and health – and thanks to the excellent contributions of employers, workers and governments – we are now equipped with the up-to-date OSH tools and approaches that the shipbuilding and ship repair industry needs to embrace a better tomorrow.”

The shipbuilding and repair industry has been facing extremely difficult times in recent years due to its strong dependence of economic cycles.

“The industry is not in a good shape at the moment but there are early signs that the outlook for the industry is improving”, said Alette van Leur, Director of the ILO Sectoral Policies Department. “I am hopeful that as the industry rebounds, the revised and adopted Code of Practice on shipbuilding and ship repair will serve as a basis for developing national or company OSH management systems and contribute to the overall improvement of working conditions in this key sector.”