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Poor occupational health = poor global economy

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Poor occupational health equals poor global economy

Industrialised countries like New Zealand must look beyond their own backyards and work to help solve the work-related health problems of developing nations – or run the risk of economic stagnation, warns a Finnish expert.

International Commission on Occupational Health President, Jorma Rantanen says if first-world countries continue to outstrip developing nations both economically and socially, societies everywhere will be disadvantaged.

Jorma Rantanen is speaking at the Asian Conference of Occupational and Environmental Health in Wellington this week, which is bringing together over 300 international delegates to focus on the emerging health challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

He says the move to improve occupational health conditions in developing countries is more than an ethical obligation – it is imperative in order to harness the benefits of globalisation.

“All countries are part of the same global system and if one part of the system starts leaking, we all suffer. If those 2.1 billion workers in developing countries do not do well, everyone’s health and safety is threatened.”

Jorma Rantanen says the lack of occupational health services in some countries can bring effects as devastating as tuberculosis and malaria.

“When there are threats to the health of people in developing nations, there are threats to people in other countries. If conditions in developing countries were better organised and more hygienic, diseases like SARS and avian flu would be more effectively contained.”

Raising health and safety standards in developing nations would bring economic benefits to countries like New Zealand, says Jorma Rantanen.

“If we can get living standards in those countries elevated to a point where they consume as many goods and services as industrialised nations, there would be a huge demand on workforces.

“It is a bad idea to let some countries maintain poor living standards while others seek to improve theirs at the same time.”

While the traditional occupational health issues are the biggest causes of concern in developing countries, the industrialised world has modern diseases like stress, which can be fatal.

“Latest data shows cardiovascular mortality among workers who are living in a highly stressful state is up to five times greater than among workers who are not exposed to that stress.”

Jorma Rantanen says the investment in occupational health resources needs to come from both government and business if there is to be any improvement in working conditions globally.

“If you do so, at the end of the day you will see it is profitable.”

The conference is hosted by the Asian Association of Occupational and Environmental Health and is supported by the New Zealand branch of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine, and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, as well as a range of other occupational health professional organisations.

ACOH 2005 runs from Wednesday, May 11 to Friday, May 13 in the Wellington Convention Centre.

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