World Congress 2020, a global forum on emerging OHS issues, coming to Toronto

Congress hosted by IWH and CCOHS to explore challenges, opportunities for OHS in the connected age

Published: April 24, 2019

The world today is highly connected— through global supply chains, digital networks and broad uptake of personal digital devices. This connected age brings new challenges, as well as opportunities, to the global occupational health and safety (OHS) community.

Challenges arise around governance and regulation, the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders (including workers, employers, designers, suppliers and importers), and the scope and limitations of “system-based” prevention approaches. Opportunities arise from the sharing of data, knowledge, processes and practices, which can facilitate the rapid exchange of effective prevention innovations and strategies—and elevate local issues into global concerns.

The XXII World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, coming to Toronto October 4 to 7, 2020, will explore these opportunities and challenges. Organized by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) every three years since 1954, the 2020 event—themed “Prevention in the connected age: Global solutions to achieve safe and healthy work for all”—is being hosted nationally by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

The first program, released in March, outlines three main topics:

1. Innovations in addressing longstanding safety and health challenges. While significant progress has been made to reduce the incidence of work-related injury and disease, traditional hazards in high-risk sectors continue to exist. In addition, new and young workers continue to be at greater risk. Identifying innovations in tackling such long-standing challenges in worker health protection will be a focus of the World Congress. The Congress will present key advances in protecting workers in high-hazard occupations and industries around the globe and include strategies for safely integrating young and new workers into the workplace.

2. Implications of the changing world of work. Digitization, globalization, demographic change and the increasing flexibility of work are trends that are currently shaping the world of work. This has brought new forms of work and work organization, and new challenges and opportunities for prevention. The Congress will consider the implications of the changing world of work for workers, employers, policy-makers, regulators, researchers and OHS professionals. It will explore the opportunities to take action on what are now global challenges.

3. Advancing a culture of prevention. The global movement to embrace a mindset that all injuries and ill health arising from work are preventable requires a paradigm and culture shift across all aspects of working life. Injuries at work and occupational diseases are neither predetermined nor unavoidable; they always have causes. By building a strong prevention culture, these causes can be eliminated, and work-related physical and mental harm and occupational diseases can be prevented.

More than 4,000 attendees from more than 150 countries are expected to attend this global forum. Among them will be high-level government officials and decision-makers from the public and private sectors; labour leaders; CEOs; OHS professionals such as safety engineers, safety technicians, occupational hygienists, and occupational health physicians and nurses; health and safety inspectors; union and employer representatives; academics and researchers in the OHS realm; and many others.

World Congress participants are thought leaders, says Dr. Cameron Mustard, IWH president and senior scientist. When they leave the office to attend the World Congress, they come because they’re curious and motivated to think differently about the global challenges in protecting the health of workers. They go because the Congress is a festival of ideas—offered in a stimulating and creative environment where people are invited to share their experiences.

The conference will focus not so much on taking stock of where we are now, but rather on paying attention to where we will be in the future, adds Mustard. In addition to being forward-looking, Mustard says World Congress 2020 will also showcase the value of joint labour-management collaboration to solve health and safety challenges.

Throughout the program, conference sessions will feature examples of employer and worker representatives working together, whether in response to regulatory incentives or spontaneously and independently of a regulator’s prompting, adds Mustard. Such frameworks are not common in the prevention systems of jurisdictions outside Canada and much of Europe. We hope that the spotlight we put on this dimension of occupational health and safety will be one of the distinguishing features of this World Congress, says Mustard.

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