Health & Safety

Since the Convention deals with the elimination of some of the most toxic substances known to humankind, health and safety concerns are central to its implementation. The Convention contains two main concepts regarding health and safety:

  • Each State Party, during the implementation of its obligations under this Convention, shall assign the highest priority to ensuring the safety of people and to protecting the environment, and shall cooperate as appropriate with other States Parties in this regard (Article VII, paragraph 3).
  • In carrying out their activities, inspectors and inspection assistants shall observe safety regulations established at the inspection site, including those for the protection of controlled environments within a facility and for personal safety. In order to implement these requirements, appropriate detailed procedures shall be considered and approved by the Conference pursuant to Article VIII, paragraph 21(i) (VA Part II, paragraph 43).

Article IV, paragraph 10, contains a similar provision specifically with respect to the transportation, sampling, storage, and destruction of chemical weapons.

The OPCW Health and Safety Policy

The “detailed procedures” referred to above, which were elaborated in the OPCW Health and Safety Policy and the OPCW Health and Safety Regulations, were adopted by the Conference at its First Session. Together with the Convention itself, these documents lay down principles and obligations for both the Secretariat and States Parties through which the health and safety of all those associated with OPCW activities will be safeguarded. The fundamental policy of the OPCW towards health and safety is contained in its Health and Safety Policy Statement, which states as follows:

The OPCW attaches great importance to health and safety. The health and safety of all personnel who may be involved in or affected by its operations is paramount. All operations involving OPCW personnel will be accomplished in a manner which to the extent possible minimises exposure, affords reasonable safety to personnel, minimises operational risk and encourages good health. The Director-General of the OPCW will ensure that the policy on health and safety is implemented at all levels of the Organisation. The Director-General will review this policy and complementary health and safety documents at regular intervals and will take appropriate actions to amend them where necessary. (annex to C-I/DEC.8, paragraph 1).

The implementation of the OPCW’s health and safety programme focuses on three main areas:

  • the provision of a general occupational health and safety service to all staff. This is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Branch, reporting to the Office of the Deputy Director-General. Staff are employed from the specialist disciplines of occupational medicine, chemical weapons safety, and chemical industry safety;
  • the provision of specialised medical and safety support to inspection teams. Depending on the mandatory pre-departure risk assessment for an inspection, the team may be accompanied by doctors, paramedics, or other safety personnel. Team members with dedicated health and safety responsibilities are employed within the Inspectorate Division with inspection support as their primary function; and
  • the provision of advice, information, and training to Member States, on request, regarding health and safety aspects of chemical weapons and defence (properties of chemicals, detection, protection, decontamination, and medical treatment). These activities are performed in conjunction with the International Cooperation and Assistance Division.