This is the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety to explicitly integrate relevant environmental issues within its scope. This chapter highlights a number of basic environmental policy issues which are increasingly linked to occupational safety and health. Other specialized environmental chapters include Environmental Health Hazards and Environmental Pollution Control. In addition, a special effort has been made to include sections concerning environment within each of the chapters on key industrial sectors. When first considering whether such a strategy to integrate environmental issues was indeed warranted in the Encyclopaedia, we began with the very limited perspective of including only a single chapter which would serve as a useful “cross-reference” demonstrating how occupational safety and health issues and the working environment have become increasingly linked to environmental issues. As the ILO has been stating for the past twenty-plus years: the working environment and the general environment represent “two sides of the same coin”.
It is also blatantly clear, however, that the magnitude and scope of the challenges this “two-sided coin” represents for the workers of this world are grossly underestimated and under-targeted for action. The meritable successes which receive legitimate attention and praise in this Encyclopaedia risk leading us towards a dangerous and false sense of security and confidence as regards the present state of the art in occupational safety and health and the environment. The very best of our technologies, management practices and tools have indeed made impressive strides towards remediating and preventing problems in a number of key sectors, particularly in industrialized countries. But it is also true that the global reach of these technologies, management practices and tools is indeed insufficient and limited, especially in developing countries and in transition economies.
This chapter describes a few of the most useful tools and practices available to deal with occupational health and safety and environmental problems and challenges, although it would be misleading to suggest that these are already in fact widely applied throughout the world. It is important, however, that occupational health and safety practitioners all over the world learn more about these tools and practices as a step towards their greater application and practical adaptation to different economic and social conditions.
The first article in this chapter provides a brief review of inter-relationships between occupational safety and health and the working environment, policies and issues related to the general environment and the concept of “sustainable development”. This concept became the guiding principle for Agenda 21, the action plan for the 21st century adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The past comfortable—and yet seriously misleading—view that it was not only possible but essential to differentiate problems and responses between those that deal with action at the workplace and those that deal with what occurs outside the gates of the enterprise has become blurred. In fact, today both workers and employers and their organizations have begun to recognize explicitly that the enterprise gate is far from impermeable to the effects of policies and problems encountered on both sides of that gate.
Given the growing recognition that occupational safety and health issues may have been treated in too isolated a manner in the past, this chapter provides a series of brief descriptions of a number of environmental policy issues which occupational safety and health practitioners may find particularly relevant to their own activities and concerns. The chapter contains two articles on environmental law and regulations which describe the present state of the art as regards the rapid expansion of international and national legal responses to existing and potential future environmental problems and concerns.
The chapter contains four articles describing some of the most important environmental policy tools being used today to improve environmental performance not only in industry, but also in all other sectors of our economy and throughout our societies. The articles focus upon environmental impact assessments, life-cycle analysis, risk assessment and communication and environmental auditing. The final section of this chapter provides two perspectives on pollution prevention and control: one focusing on making pollution prevention a corporate priority and the other providing a trade union perspective of pollution prevention and cleaner production technologies.
The overall objective of this chapter is to enable the reader to better perceive and understand the growing inter-relationships between occupational safety and health and the working environment, and the broader environmental issues beyond the workplace. A greater recognition of these linkages will hopefully also lead to more extensive and effective exchanges of experience and information between occupational health and safety and environmental specialists, with a view to enhancing our capacity to respond to challenges in the working environment and beyond.