Occupational Safety and Health

Rising to the sector’s challenges through a multi-level approach

More than four per cent of the world’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) is lost because of work-related injuries and diseases, according to the ILO.

In the garment and textile sector, the generation of chemical waste, extreme heat, air pollution and flooding as well as the reduced availability of water exacerbate occupational safety and health (OSH) risks. This also produces negative economic consequences, increasing the damaging effects of unsafe work environments on human health and wellbeing.
The impact of COVID-19 on the safety and health of workers in the garment sector was severe and compounded those the industry was already facing in relation to OSH globally, with the ILO estimating that the pandemic resulted in the most severe crisis for the world of work since the 1930s’ Great Depression. The threats posed by the pandemic extended well beyond catching the virus itself, clearly highlighting the importance of a robust commitment to OSH.

Strong OSH systems were the bedrock of Better Work’s global pandemic response. Investment in OSH is crucial to protecting workers and their families but also to ensuring the continuity of enterprises and avoiding supply chain disruptions.

Furthermore, in 2022, a safe and healthy working environment was recognised by the ILO as one of the fundamental principles and rights at work.

Better Work is strengthening its approach to OSH, scaling up its factory engagement, and putting an enhanced targeted focus on the underlying causes of persistent and structural compliance failings.

Better Work’s core objectives for OSH are associated with the promotion of a culture of health and safety in the world of work and the prevention of serious risks, accidents, illnesses and fatalities through stronger national and enterprise systems and collective action and ownership.

Better Work’s Impact on OSH

Better Work has demonstrated that improved working conditions, including in the OSH working environment, are correlated with higher worker productivity. When workers reported better OSH environments, they reached daily production targets up to 40 minutes faster than otherwise similar counterparts.

Innovating Amid Crisis

During the pandemic, Better Work and its partners reached around 4.3 million workers as well as their families and community members by using both traditional and innovative ways to create awareness of COVID-19 transmission and prevention. We supported over 2,600 factories to raise awareness about creating safe workplaces. This support included sessions on how to comply with OSH guidelines issued by national governments and ways to conduct risk assessments and develop preparedness plans.

Also, the programme and its partners provided personal protective equipment kits and masks to over 50,000 service providers and garment workers in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Madagascar.

In Cambodia, Better Work developed a human-focused theme dubbed “Su Su” (Do not give up). The campaign’s concept and outreach strategy were developed based on first-hand data on the mental health support needs and social-media usage patterns of garment factory workers. Within 3 months, the campaign reached over 2 million people.

In addition to the targeted actions required to face and overcome the pandemic, Better Work has a long standing history of working on different dimensions of OSH across its country programmes. Studies have shown how the programme’s positive effects on OSH significantly increase in parallel with years of participation.

In Jordan, the proportion of workers who report that accidents or injuries that were a concern for themselves or their colleagues decreased by 32 percentage points, following six years of participation in the programme. Workers in Jordan are experiencing healthier work environments and better health, including decreases in fatigue, headaches, thirst and hunger, due to the Better Work intervention.

At participating factories in Nicaragua, the frequency of work-related injuries were shown to decline after three years of participation in the Better Work programme. Workers in Nicaragua also expressed fewer concerns with excessive temperatures, dangerous equipment, accidents and poor air quality.

Nearly eight in ten workers across all factories enrolled in Better Work are women. Better Work has expanded access to pregnancy-related healthcare, a vital service for many young women working long hours in the garment sector.

In Haiti, only six per cent of female workers reported having access to prenatal check-ups at the outset of the programme. This increased to 26 per cent after five years. In Viet Nam, Better Work’s impact in improving prenatal care was apparent within the first two years of participation in the programme.

Better Work Action Plan

Better Work’s OSH Action Plan is responsive and designed to evolve over the lifetime of our strategy, Sustaining Impact, 2022/27. In consultation with global and national partners, we will continue to refine our action plans to ensure they support long-term, progressive change. To achieve a culture of health and safety in the world of work, we:

1Establish and strengthen OSH management systems and a culture of safety and health in the factory and beyond

Better Work will deepen its focus on OSH management systems and behavioural change. This includes targeted actions to boost dorm safety where migrant workers reside, road safety during the workers’ commutes and the eradication of violence and harassment from the factory floor in line with the OSH Code of Practice for Textiles, Clothing, Leather and Footwear and  ILO Convention No. 190.

2Apply robust technical interventions for salient risks by establishing a network of OSH experts within Better Work and the ILO and externally

To identify pragmatic and robust solutions to persistent non-compliance areas, embedded in management systems and change management processes. Working with key ILO units, Better Work will contribute to an OSH toolkit to support implementation of the ILO OSH Code of Practice. The interventions are be designed to help build capacity within the sector to use the Code and address key risks including the ever-mounting OSH risks of chemicals and waste management as well as violence and harassment in the context of OSH.

3Bolster and support national OSH systems and action plans

By supporting other ILO units to strengthen national ministries of labour, departments of OSH or other institutions through broadly sharing Better Work data, experience and expertise towards capacity building, policy reform and the implementation of national OSH action plans.

4Convene industry stakeholders around data and evidence

To understand root-causes of OSH non-compliance and lever the expertise and partnerships with brands, ILO and other experts to address these issues collectively and holistically. Better Work collaborates closely with ILO other specialists to engage in initiatives, including with the private sector, to capture and build more robust OSH better data, including through new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT).


As a sign of the programme’s flexibility and adaptability to the different contexts in which it operates, priority OSH areas may vary, depending on each country’s constituent priorities and decent work country programme workplans.

Better Work’s current Strategic Phase: Sustaining our impact in 2022-27 and beyond

Strategic Priorities

Better Work five-year strategy (2022-27) embraces innovation around a set of strategic priorities to adapt to the needs of the garment and footwear industry around the world.


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