Humanity and work: Berenice Isabel Ferrari Goelzer at TEDxLacador


Translator: Claudia Sander
Reviewer: Leonardo Silva Have you ever realized that occupational diseases
constitute a “silent epidemic”? I mean, diseases
that we don’t hear much about but they occur every day,
everywhere, in every country, and they affect a huge number of workers. According to the International
Labor Office, every year, more than 2.3 million workers die
from occupational accidents and diseases, and about 160,000 new cases
of occupational diseases occur. And, attention: any figure you see about occupational
diseases is an underestimation because reported cases are just
“the tip of a huge iceberg.” For example, the Pan America
Health Organization estimates that in Latin America not quite
5 percent of occupational diseases are duly reported. In my opinion, humanity involves
understanding and concern for the impact that our actions,
and also something very important, our lack of action, will have on others. And of course at least trying
“to do something about it.” There are many aspects
of “Humanity and Work” and I emphasize that I’m just
going to give you a brief glimpse of a few aspects related
to my professional experience, which is prevention in the workplace. Work is essential for all of us. Have you imagined the number of people who have worked so that all of you
could be here today? Well fed, well dressed, with your clothes,
your shoes, your cell phones? Have you thought about that? Unfortunately indispensable activities,
such as agriculture, food production, manufacturing, construction,
energy production, services, including health services, they require processes,
equipments and materials which can pose hazards
to health and to the environment. This hazards are: chemicals,
such as solvents and pesticides; physical agents, such as heat and noise; mineral dusts, vegetable dusts
– cotton dust, wood; biological agents
such as viruses and molds; ergonomic factors, repetitive movement,
I’m sure all of you do that; and psychosocial factors,
which are very important, and they lead to the so talked about
today occupational stress. The consequences are many, and I’m just going to give you
a few examples concerning chemicals: intoxication, cancer, asphyxia,
lung diseases, endocrine disruption, effects on human reproduction – unborn babies may be affected,
future generations can be affected. Not to speak about
the subclinical conditions that are never reported
but really impact on quality of life. I’d like to say a word
about the “hidden hazards,” because they are hidden
and many people don’t expect them. They are toxic chemicals
that occur as impurities, such as benzene, in less toxic solvents, and also as a result
of chemical reactions, of decomposition of organic matter,
and of thermal decomposition. We had a tragic event
last year in our state: a night club fire. More than 200 young people died, not from the fire but from cyanides
released when the polyurethanes burned. The effects can be acute
but they can appear much later. I want to show you this graph. You’ll see the blue line. Mesothelioma is the typical lung cancer caused by asbestos. In the UK the amphiboles were banned
in 1985 and the chrysotile in 1999. And yet, if you look at
the mesothelioma annual deaths in the UK, they are going up and they are
expected to peak around 2020. Why? Because of the latency
of carcinogenic agents. People may be exposed now and the consequences may appear
sometimes decades later. And this is a very underestimated hazard. Of course we cannot speak
about humanity and work without saying a word about the terror
of slave work and child labor. These are issues that cannot be ignored. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
by the UN, does touch on aspects of work. Just look at article 23. While I take a breath,
you just read article 23. “Work should not destroy the individual. Work should fulfill
and dignify the human being.” Moreover, many toxic chemicals
may leave workplaces in the form of effluents,
residues, waste, and products. And they may affect
the environment – air, water, soil; nature – animals, plants; and they can affect communities, not only surrounding
communities, but very far away. For example, dioxins
were detected in breast milk in some regions of the Arctic
where there are no dioxin sources. They can also affect consumers, of course. I’ll just show you these graphs,
so you can visualize the spread of a chemical
from the plant to the environment. We can have workers’ exposure,
we can have emissions, we can have liquid effluents,
we can have consumers’ products, everything has to be disposed off
in the end, anyway. Chemicals go from one environmental
compartment to the other. And what should we do? If we avoid or strictly control
chemicals in the workplace, we avoid all this spread and all the expensive mitigation measures
that are required later on. I want to give you the example of mercury. Mercury is extremely toxic. It can affect many organs,
including the central nervous system, [causing] symptoms similar to madness. Everybody knows the character,
the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, but not everybody knows that in English
the expression “as mad as a hatter” has its origin in mercury poisoning, because in the old days, they used mercury
to treat the felt for hats. Anyway, mercury is not created
and it cannot be destroyed. It goes from one environmental compartment
to the other, if you don’t stop it. It’s become such a global issue that last year 92 countries signed
the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Its objective is to reduce the use
and global emissions of mercury. It’s called Minamata
because in the 50s and 60s a whole village was poisoned
in the Minamata Bay, in Japan. I want just to briefly give you an example
that we have in the Amazonian [Region]. It’s an example of a hazard for workers, for the communities
and for the environment. And this is the small-scale gold mining using the gold extraction
by amalgamation with mercury. They grind and mix the ore with mercury
which amalgamates with gold. Later on, the amalgama is heated,
mercury evaporates, and gold remains. You can imagine the extent
of workers’ exposure communities’ exposure, and also the environmental damage, that this causes. We have it in Amazonia,
but it happens in around 70 countries and it’s estimated
that about 15 million people are involved in this. I want to show you this graph,
look just at the red numbers. A scientist made a study of mercury
in fish, in some Amazonian rivers. The maximum concentration of mercury
allowed in fish in Brazil is 0.5 µg/g. I put in red the highest value
he found to impress you, but if you look our values
are quite impressive; it’s 5,500 µg/g, and that’s 11,000 times
the maximum allowed concentration. So you can imagine
the environmental damage that mercury is causing
in many places in the world. There are also the great disasters. We had Bhopal, Chernobyl, the Deepwater Horizon Rig,
in the Gulf of Mexico. All of this happened
by lack of prevention in the workplace. Why do I insist? Because the prevention in the workplace
is not given its due consideration, and that’s why so many
disasters occur. What happened? In all of them, faulty equipment,
faulty material, failure in safety devices,
failure in valves, and, in many cases,
lack of emergency preparedness. There is also the economic impact
of occupational diseases and accidents. The ILO made a study in developed
countries, mainly Nordic countries, and the conclusion was that the expenses
with occupational diseases and accidents can be up to four percent
of the Gross Domestic Product and it’s estimated that in developing
countries it might be worse. Anyway, very briefly, I’ve tried to present you a scenario,
and it’s kind of scary. I mean, we need development, we need
industrialization, we need chemicals, including to save lives, pharmaceuticals,
we need pharmaceuticals. However, unfortunately, chemicals
can also cause a lot of harm, and can even kill us. What to do? We don’t want to go back to live in caves
with no electricity or books, or at least most of us don’t. So what we have to do
is prevention, prevention, prevention. And prevention should start
in the workplace. It’s not the only type of prevention, but it’s a very important aspect
that’s very often overlooked. That’s why I insist and I’m grateful
I have the occasion to speak to many decision makers
or future decision makers here. To give you a couple of examples
of measures concerning chemicals, you can substitute chemicals,
you can modify equipment, you can have enclosed operations, – the gold mining can be done
in retorts, enclosed, but of course it’s more expensive – we can have local exhaust ventilation
with air cleaning devices. So, there are many measures,
but the most important is anticipated preventive actions. That’s really important. What is that? It’s to recognize and then avoid
or control hazards at the planning and design stage. Whenever designing or selecting
equipment, work processes, workplaces, whenever selecting materials
and substances to be used, key considerations
that cannot be overlooked: workers’ health, environmental protection
and energy consumption. In this connection, a very important
concept is life cycle assessment, LCA, and that means the assessment
of a chemical or a product since its extraction or creation
throughout its whole life, passing by manufacturing,
use, etc., until its final disposal. And this is a very important consideration
that is sometimes overlooked. We know a lot about hazards
and their prevention. Unfortunately there’s a wide
“knowledge-application” gap. Why the knowledge we have is not always
applied at the workplace level? There are many reasons. But one of them,
I think the beginning of it all, is insufficient or lack of political will
on the part of decision makers. Who are the decision makers who could make
a difference concerning prevention? At different levels we all are,
but I would mention some: legislators, policy makers, politicians, designers, engineers, architects, occupational health
and safety professionals, environmentalists, educators,
media professionals, managers, and workers, among others. But there is one group
to which we all belong. And it’s the group that has more power
than we think: consumers. Products and services
are targeted to consumers. And consumers usually don’t really care
very much what happens. And I ask you, should we buy products
without knowing what was involved in their manufacturing? Have workers been killed? Do we have pesticide residues in our food? Do we have lead in toys? Do we have mercury in our cosmetics? I think that, if and when, consumers
are well aware of all the implications, of all the health issues involved
in products and services, some of us will make better choices. I wanted to give you an example
in the fashion industry: sandblasting, to give jeans a faded look. I’m sure many of you will have
the jeans with a faded look. First I ask if you really need that,
because many needs are created. There are things we don’t really need and they cause a lot of harm
and we should think twice about that. But anyway this sandblasting has been done
in many countries and with no control, and it has led to thousands
of cases of silicosis, and many deaths among workers,
some of them very young. Silicosis is a terrible disease,
it is progressive and it is incurable. And it’s not justifiable that, to have
faded jeans, somebody should die. I must say that several companies
have discontinued this, but it is still used in many countries. I want to say a word
about sustainable development. Everybody knows
what sustainable development is, I’m not going to say what it is. What I want to emphasize is that there is a need
for a global perspective when dealing with such an important issue. I’ll try to illustrate what I want to say with two oversimplified examples, just to illustrate what I want to say: recycling and planting trees, commendable,
necessary and wonderful actions. Recycling: very important to save
resources and also to minimize waste. But recycling is not always
clean and green. Let’s suppose we have a product
that contains a very toxic chemical, let’s say lead. And then that product
is going to be recycled. The recycled product will still
contain the toxic chemical. Not to speak about the recycling workers; most of the time they are not protected,
because it’s considered a “green job.” But anyway, we have the recycled products
still containing the toxic chemical, and this will eventually be disposed of and the toxic chemical
will go to the environment. So the ideal would be
to avoid the toxic chemical in the original article. Then we could speak
about clean and green recycling. Planting trees: to plant a tree
is wonderful and it has to be done. But I want to give you an example. Suppose a tree dies
– it’s oversimplified – suppose a tree dies
because of acid rain, in a forest. I plant a new tree. The new tree will also die unless whatever
caused the acid rain will be stopped. What I mean is that to deal
only with the consequences is not enough. We have to search
for the causes and fight them. In order to attain economic,
social and sustainable development, – that is to develop, to industrialize, to have a good quality of life,
we all want that, to respect workers,
to respect the environment, to avoid environmental degradation,
to avoid climate change – to attain that we must
see the broad picture. I see an urgent need
in our society, everywhere, for a shift from a reactive
to a proactive mentality. A reactive mentality is necessary
because if harm is done we have to fix it. But in the case of the tree
we are planting, that’s reactive, it was killed because of the acid rain. The proactive would be
to avoid the acid rain. When an oil spill occurs, billions
– as happened in the Gulf of Mexico – are spent to clean up, to pay people,
everybody is ready, NGOs, everybody works. But then when it is the question
of avoiding the spill, you know, there’s is not so much
movement around that. Some decision makers
seem to wear blinders, and they only see the short-term profits without really and carefully appreciating the long term consequences and losses. Science and technology are needed. But the negative impacts
should and can be prevented. I read somewhere that Gandhi,
the great Gandhi, considered as a sin
science without humanity. And I think we spoke today
a lot about technology and I think that that’s a consideration that all people involved
with technology should think about. Science without humanity is a sin;
technology without humanity is a sin. To finalize I’d like to say that work,
health, environment, quality of life, natural resources, they are all connected. Their protection is a “must”
and it requires not only knowledge, but also vision, responsibility,
commitment and humanity. And speaking from my own field, I think
that in the case of work-related hazards, humanity is their prevention. Thank you. (Applause)

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