In 2017, 2.7 million workers died from work-related injuries and diseases, up from 2.4 million workers in 2014. With a nearly 20 per cent rise in injuries and diseases at work in just three years, the work force is at risk.
65 per cent of work-related injuries and deaths happen Asia. With nearly 1.8 million such injuries and deaths, it has the highest work-related mortality among five regions of the world. Developed countries like the United States and those in Europe too have registered over 0.6 million such deaths. This calls for the attention of developed as well as developing nations to ensure healthier lives and increased productivity, which maximises decent work and sustainable development.
2.7 million workers die every year due to occupational diseases and accidents
This means that 7,500 people die every day due to poor working conditions. Out of this, 6,500 die due to diseases contacted at work places and 1,000 die from accidents and injuries.
Unsafe work places on the rise
The increase in work place-related deaths statistics followed the inclusion of respiratory diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and work-related asthma, which were not considered in 2014, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). But occupational diseases have been on the rise, registering an increase of around 18.8 per cent between 1998 and 2015.
The killer diseases at work
Circulatory system diseases and work-related cancers contribute to almost 60 per cent of the total work-related mortality, according to ILO. At No.3 are respiratory diseases, which are on the rise but under-regulated.
Even the World Health Organization has warned that more than 50 million people struggle with occupational lung diseases. COPD is an important work-related problem caused by exposures to a multitude of vapours, gases, dusts and fumes. Collectively known as VGDF, these are seldom well-recognized and are thus under-diagnosed. Hence, the world needs to adopt a new paradigm for recognising that occupational exposures to VGDF cause COPD and preventive measures should be taken to reduce such exposures to workers.
Asia is the most unsafe region to work
65 % of the work-related injuries and deaths happen in the region
Among the five global regions, Asia accounts for the most — nearly two-thirds — of work-related deaths and injuries.
Future of work
Four major forces — technology, demographic shifts, development and climate change, and changes in the organisation of work — will drive transformation at work places, predicts the ILO. These pose challenges but also offer opportunities for improvements.
Digitisation, robotics, and nanotechnology can affect psychosocial health and introduce new hazards. But they can also help cut hazardous exposures, facilitate training and inspection of labour.
Occupational injury rates are significantly high among young workers; older workers, on the other hand, need adaptive practices and equipment to work safely.
The third factor leads to air pollution, heat stress and emerging diseases. Shifting weather and temperature patterns can cost jobs. But sustainable development and green economy need new jobs too.
Changes in the organization of work can bring flexibility that allows more people to enter the labour force, but may also lead to psycho-social issues and excessive work hours. Approximately 36 per cent of the world’s workforce currently works more than 48 hours per week.
Working safe: the way ahead
Earlier this year, the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work called for a Universal Labour Guarantee, including fundamental workers’ rights, an “adequate living wage”, limits on hours of work and ensuring safe and healthy workplaces. The Commission had also called for the recognition of safety and health at work as a fundamental principle and right at work.
Drawing upon a century’s experience, it also called upon nations to focus on anticipating new and emerging risks related to occupational safety and health for adopting a more multidisciplinary approach and building stronger links to public health work. Strengthening international labour standards and national legislation with collaboration between the Governments, workers and the employers is essential to ensure safe and healthy workplaces.
✸ Safety and health at the heart of the future of work: Building on 100 years of experience, International Labour Organisation (ILO), April 2019
✸ Global estimates of occupational accidents and work-related illnesses 2017
✸ Global Burden of Disease, IHME 2016