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15 March 2014

Report from Dhaka Conference held 24-26 February 2014

The Collegium Ramazzini, Harvard University and the Dhaka Community Hospital Trust hosted a conference entitled "Sustainable work/sustainable development, safety and health awareness training to improve working conditions in the garment, tannery and construction industries of Bangladesh" at the Dhaka community hospital on February 24-26, 2014 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was chaired by the Chairman of Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, Dr. Quazi Quamruzzaman and Dr. David Christiani from Harvard University representing the Collegium Ramazzini. Collegium Fellow Ronald Dobbin coordinated the organization of the conference on behalf of the Collegium Ramazzini.

The conference was highly successful in addressing current occupational health issues in Bangladesh, drawing over 170 attendees who participated and engendered excellent discussion. There was broad representation from government, employers, trade unions, and NGOs in BD, and WHO (Dhaka Office). Experts from Malaysia, Korea, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Holland, and the US participated. Collegium Ramazzini Fellows included, in addition to Christiani and Dobbin, Knut Ringen, Krishna Gopal Rampal, Anders England, and Margrit von Braun.

Additional co-sponsors included TerraGraphics International Foundation and the Society for Occupational Safety and Health and the Service Employees International Union from the US. The United Food and Commercial Workers from the US sent two speakers to address worker training.

Plenary sessions addressed a health risk assessment approach, special populations including gender issues in the workplace, and reports on successful prevention programs for both the workplace and community. Topics ranged from occupational lung disease to worker training to life-cycle in construction to safety and health in the context of decent work and hierarchy of control. Perspectives were given by Bangladeshi worker representatives and NGOs. An Action Plan for next steps was drafted.

Discussion followed two tracks:
Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health (EOSH)
Construction Occupational Safety and Health (COSH)

Three central needs emerged from the conference: (1) there is a lack of valid data on occupational risks and official data greatly underestimate risks; (2) there is a lack of expertise in occupational safety and health; and (3) there is no compensation scheme for injured workers.

The main outcome of the conference was the announcement of a new non-profit, tentatively named the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health Research and Advocacy to be created, and largely funded locally as part of the Dhaka Community Hospital Trust. Its first activities will likely be more data characterization of occupational risks and the establishment of a basic safety and health training program for all workers, initially focused on the construction industry.

An additional positive outcome is that Fellows made excellent connections with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research and the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research in Bangladesh (in Dhaka.) Both of these latter Centres have connections with Swedish institutions and have strong interest in data collection and analysis of occupational injury and disease in Bangladesh. We also made very positive connections with the German Aid Agency, GIZ and their project on injury prevention in shipbuilding.

A follow-up meeting is scheduled for the week of October 11 in Dhaka. It will be organized jointly by Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, Collegium Ramazzini Fellows and the International Social Security Association (ISSA). The plan for this conference is in three broad areas:
1) Dhaka Community Hopsital Trust will introduce its new Center for Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health Research and Advocacy
2) Collegium Ramazzini will address scientific aspects of occupational and environmental health, including initial estimates of occupational safety and health risks based on household survey data from Bangladesh;
3) ISSA will present best practices for injury prevention and introduce models for national compensation programs for injured workers and their families.

There will be a long-term opportunity for collaboration between the Collegium and the Dhaka Community Hospital Trust and other safety and health institutions in Bangladesh, with focus on two areas: providing scientific support, and helping to organize exchange programs so that occupational and environmental health researchers in Bangladesh can spend time to strengthen their expertise at foreign institutions, and in return, for foreign scientists to spend time in Bangladesh. Fellows interested in supporting these efforts in Bangladesh should contact project coordinator Ronald Dobbin.



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