The creation of PCU-WHS addresses the need provincially, nationally and internationally for education and research in the interdisciplinary fields of workplace safety, health promotion, disability management, rehabilitation and disability leadership studies. The University makes the case that while some post-secondary institutions may offer programs in some of these areas, there is a need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to these interdisciplinary fields, as well as addressing the social and economic needs.
The social, human and economic costs of worker fatalities and permanent disabilities in Canada and internationally are staggering:
- In 2012 alone, disability absenteeism cost the Canadian economy $16.6 billion, an estimated 2.4 percent of the gross national payroll. (Conference Board of Canada)
- In 2012, 979 Canadians died because of their work, but we know the numbers are higher because official figures capture only those who received workers’ compensation benefits. (Canadian Labour Congress)
- Workplaces claim more than 2.3 million deaths per year, out of which 350,000 are fatal accidents and close to 2 million are work-related diseases. In addition, 313 million accidents occur on the job annually; many of these resulting in extended absences from work. The human cost of this daily adversity is vast and the economic burden of poor occupational safety and health practices is estimated at 4 percent of global Gross Domestic Product each year. (International Labour Organization)
- Every 15 seconds a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease (International Labour Organization)
Development of an International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Occupational Health and Safety was approved by the Governing Council during its 95th session in June 2006, global acceptance of the ILO’s Code of Practice on Managing Disability in the Workplace (2002), and the development of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008), which has been ratified by Canada (having 144 countries sign on to the Convention as well as 87 countries ratify the Convention to date), all support the opportunity for global leadership by British Columbia and Canadian employers, workers and governments. Key stakeholders support and recognize the urgent need for an internationally recognized, specialized academic institution of excellence to engage in educational and research strategies seeking innovative and collaborative solutions to address the unacceptable economic and social consequences of disabilities on employers, workers and society.
The Global and Canadian Context of Health and Safety
As stated by Kofi Annan, fr. Secretary-General of the United Nations, “All too often lives are shattered unnecessarily because of poor working conditions and inadequate safety systems. Let me encourage everyone to join the International Labour Organization in promoting safety and health at work. It is not only sound economic policy, it is a basic human right.”
Internationally, there is growing recognition that workers have a right not to be injured or made ill by their jobs. Despite this, both nationally and internationally, the number of work-related illnesses and accidents continues to grow.
The Canadian Labour Congress reports that in Canada it is estimated that on average two persons die per day annually from work-related accidents.
The Global and Canadian Context of Disabilities
According to the World Health Organization, of the estimated 610 million people in the world with disabilities, 386 million, or more than five percent of the world’s population, are of working age, i.e. 15 to 64 years.
A World Bank study reported that in Canada and internationally, disabled persons are disproportionately represented among the poor, the unemployed and the underemployed.
In the United States, one-third of adults with disabilities live in extreme poverty and while two out of every three working age persons with disabilities report that they want to work, the significant majority are either unemployed or underemployed.
Internationally, there have been a number of critical disability initiatives to enhance workplace opportunities for disabled workers both on economic grounds and for reasons of social justice. Key international initiatives include:
- World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by the United Nations in 1982
- United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons, 1983-92
- United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for People with Disabilities, adopted in 1993
- ILO Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention, 1983
- ILO Code of Practice on Managing Disability in the Workplace, 2002
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2008
In addition, countries such as Canada have a legally binding constitutional commitment to anti-discrimination and employment equity through its charters and legislation.
In British Columbia as part of its commitment to a “golden decade”, the provincial government has made a particular and explicit promise to improve health and respond to issues related to disability.
This University will bring scientific principles to the study of disability management, elevating its international reputation and standing. The International Disability Management Standards Council Governing Board considers it the fulfillment of a dream to see the University established and will look forward with considerable interest in the year ahead to monitor its progress.
— Dr. Joachim Breuer, IDMSC Co-Chair; Director General, Federation of Workers Compensation Boards (DGUV) of Germany; and Chair of the Technical Council of the International Social Security Association of Geneva