KANBrief 4/14

Inspiring: the World Congress

In August 2014, the XX World Congress for Safety and Health at Work was held in Frankfurt. 3,980 visitors from 143 countries, 600 speakers, 205 presentations, four keynote speeches, six Technical Sessions, 30 Symposia, over 200 presentations in the Forum for Prevention, over 250 posters, 290 contributions from 33 countries in the International Media Festival for Prevention (IMFP), an open-air exhibition and 18 Technical Tours: impressive statistics.

Against a backdrop of economic and political crises and diminishing resources, it is reasonable to ask whether, in the Internet age, we still need a world congress on the subject of safety and health at work. In his opening speech at the World Congress, Dr Joachim Breuer, Director General of the DGUV, asserted that we do. He expected networking on a personal, human and emotional level across technical disciplines and national borders to deliver an impetus that generates greater interest in prevention on the international stage and draws it out of the bubble it has created for itself: a world of limit values, standards, and regulations governing behaviour. Breuer sees safety and health at work as a generic issue, one that impacts upon all areas of life and is influenced not only by new technology, labour market reforms, demographic developments, immigration and education, but also by free trade and climate policy. In order to change people's awareness – not merely to inform them of what is safe and healthy, but to persuade them to act accordingly – his urgent appeal is that we abandon technical jargon and adopt the language of emotions (full text of the speech (pdf, in German, pages 8-12)).

The emotion factor Guy Ryder, Director-General of the ILO, caused consternation by pointing out that worldwide, occupational accidents and diseases cost 2.3 million lives every year: work kills more people than war. Kevin Myers, President of the International Association of Labour Inspection (IALI), demanded empathy from listeners by relating the stories of individuals and giving the victims of serious occupational accidents a chance to speak. Errol Frank Stoové, President of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), encouraged listeners to wear the "I love prevention" badge in order to express publicly their own commitment to prevention. The Dundu gentle giants captured the audience's hearts with a short story on the subject of achieving more together. At the German Evening in the Festhalle Frankfurt, the guests were enthused by the leitmotif: "My heart beats for...".

Networking on both a large and small scale

One of the aims of the World Congress was to consolidate existing networks, to lay the foundation for new forms of joint activity, and to enhance relationships between all involved. Personal discussion between the experts was supported by innovative, interactive event formats. In her welcoming address, the German Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Andrea Nahles, stressed that regardless of where in the world they live, people have a right to good working conditions. Nahles called on those responsible to fulfil their responsibilities and cooperate substantially more closely in order to create a sustainable culture of prevention, not only in developed industrial nations but also in developing and emerging economies. Safe and healthy work is a responsibility shared by society as a whole and one that we can assume effectively only if government, industry, the social partners, the scientific community and experts co-operate at national and global level.

Not just for one week

The World Congress was held under the motto: "Sharing a vision for sustainable prevention". Reports, abstracts, presentations, photographs and videos of the individual events were posted whilst the Congress was still in progress, and are documented there. They serve to keep the enthusiasm that was tangible during the Congress alive, to carry it forward, and to establish a culture of prevention. That a culture of prevention involving sustainable measures for safety and health at work is tangible and not merely an abstract concept is demonstrated impressively by the special event entitled "Der Leuchtturm sticht in See!" (The Lighthouse Sets Sail), which was held concurrently with the World Congress and was aimed at staff from the prevention services of the accident insurance institutions (Special events for prevention (in German)).

Rita Schlüter