Funding of International Agencies

The WHO and the ILO are poorly funded and are able to direct only very small sums to occupational health and safety programs around the world. The courtly diplomacy of the WHO and the ILO often masks the meagerness of their accomplishments in international occupational health and safety. The agencies are primarily European in their staffing, and they go to extremes to achieve consensus on every issue, greatly limiting their effectiveness in addressing important problems in public health.

The WHO Programme for Occupational Health supports a staff of only four people. Regional WHO offices have few, if any, specialists trained in occupational health and safety. SafeWork, the ILO Programme on Safety, Health at Work, and the Environment, has been leading the ILO’s efforts to promote occupational health. The 2-year ILO SafeWork budget was recently cut. According to its director, “The result is a virtual disappearance of interest in occupational safety and health” (Takala 2002). For example, the enforcement (labor inspection) unit of SafeWork has been reduced to a single person.

To be successful, the international agencies will need to rise above the level of their current activities, sadly underfunded and mired in hopeless attempts to placate industry while compromising on their mission to protect the public health and the health and safety of workers. Nowhere is the problem more obvious than in the evaluation of carcinogenicity of chemicals at IARC. Lorenzo Tomatis, former director of IARC, asserts that IARC is unscientifically and prematurely downgrading carcinogen classifications of chemicals for which there were clear and undeniable positive results in experimental bioassays (Tomatis 2002). James Huff, who was instrumental in developing the IARC Monographs program in the 1970s and the U.S. National Toxicology Program since then, has elaborated on the increase in industry influence at IARC in recent years (Huff 2002). The Lancet published an editorial agreeing that “IARC may have come under undue influences, especially commercial ones,” and urged WHO programs to adopt more transparency and greater access by nonindustry scientists and organizations (Lancet 2003).

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