Some 2.2 million people worldwide die of work-related accidents and occupational diseases each year, according to a new report prepared by the United Nations’ International Labour Office (ILO). The report, “Decent Work – Safe Work,” says the 2.2 million figure may be vastly under-estimated due to poor reporting and differing recording criteria from country to country. While the number of work-related illnesses and deaths has lessened somewhat in the industrialized countries, the ILO report said the number of accidents – especially fatal accidents – appear to be increasing, particularly in some Asian countries, due to rapid development and the strong competitive pressures of globalization.
According to the National Safety Council, the U.S. organizers of the 17th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, while there is no comprehensive tracking of all occupational disease related deaths in this country, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does track work-related accidents and reported a total of 5,915 work injury deaths, including homicides and suicides in 2001, a comparable time period to the ILO report. Nonfatal work injuries recorded by employers and reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics were 5.2 million in that same period. From 2001 through 2003, the U.S. workforce grew +1.7% and the number of work injury deaths and total recordable cases declined -3.6% and -16.3%, respectively.
“Occupational safety and health is vital to the dignity of work,” says ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “Still, every day, on average, some 5,000 or more women and men around the world lose their lives because of work-related accidents and illness. Decent work must be safe work, and we are a long way from achieving that goal.”
“The sad truth is that in some parts of the world, many workers will probably die for lack of an adequate safety culture,” says Jukka Takala, director of the ILO’s SafeWork Programme. “This is a heavy price to pay for uncontrolled development. We must act swiftly to reverse these trends.”
“Injury prevention is no longer a luxury for the developed world,” says Alan C. McMillan, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “As populations grow and economies develop, millions throughout the world are taking on new jobs and new risks like never before. Safety and health cannot remain on the backburner as an option in doing business. The well-being of workers and their families must be at the forefront, a core business value, in all industries, in every corner of the world.
“It is imperative that we work to foster effective partnerships among researchers, educators, practitioners, governments, businesses and workers from around the world and channel our collective energy to build a global culture of prevention,” McMillan continues. “This is the purpose of the World Congress, to strive for a global injury and prevention culture that ensures safe and healthy workplaces for all workers everywhere.”
In order to move us toward a global culture of workplace injury and illness prevention McMillan recommends the development of workplace safety and health infrastructures — tailored to each nation’s needs — to promote more accurate injury and illness recording and reporting; establishing practical governmental policies so that nations can effectively implement safety and health interventions; and sound workplace management systems that integrate safety & health practices and procedures into the business activities of the enterprise.
“As the global economic and humanitarian consequences of workplace injuries are being realized by businesses, governments and labor groups, experts are calling for greater recognition of the role that workplace safety and health must play in sustaining international economic and social development in the 21st century,” says McMillan.
The ILO report also noted:
•Reporting systems and coverage of occupational safety and health in many developing countries are poor and in some cases deteriorating. According to numbers estimated by ILO, only a fraction of the real toll of work-related death and disease is captured in a number of developing countries.
•Men, in particular, are at risk of dying at working age (below 65) while women suffer more from work-related communicable diseases, psycho-social factors and long-term musculo-skeletal disorders. Men tend to die as a result of accidents, lung diseases and work-related cancers, such as those caused by asbestos.
•Occupational injuries are more prevalent in the developing countries where workers are more likely to be exposed to workplace hazards, especially in high-risk sectors such as mining, construction and agriculture. In the industrialized countries, the share of the workforce in such hazardous sectors has declined while that of safer service industries (office work, banking, commerce) has grown.
•Younger workers (age 15-24) are more likely to suffer non-fatal occupational accidents than their older colleagues, while workers over the age of 55 appear to be more likely to suffer fatal accidents and ill-health.
•More than half of the retirements are based on early retirements and disability pensions rather than workers reaching the normal retirement age. While not all factors behind these trends are directly caused by work, the workplace is in a key position for prevention and maintaining work ability through its management system.