Almost 2 Mn people die from work-related causes each year : WHO/ILO

Almost 2 Mn people die from work-related causes each year : WHO/ILO

According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) and International Labour Organization's (ILO) first joint estimates, occupational illnesses and injuries killed 1.9 million people in 2016. (ILO).

According to the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Burden of Disease and Injury at Work, 2000–2016: Global Monitoring Report, the majority of work-related deaths were caused by respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Non-communicable diseases were responsible for 81% of deaths. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (450,000 fatalities), stroke (400,000 deaths), and ischemic heart disease were the leading causes of mortality (350,000 deaths). Occupational injuries accounted for 19% of fatalities (360,000 deaths).

The study takes into account 19 occupational risk factors, including long work hours and workplace exposure to air pollution, asthmagens, carcinogens, ergonomic risk factors, and noise. The primary risk factor was prolonged work hours, which was connected to about 750,000 deaths. 450,000 fatalities were attributed to workplace exposure to air pollution (particulate matter, gases, and fumes).

“It's appalling to see so many people literally killed by their jobs,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Our research serves as a wake-up call to governments and businesses to enhance and protect workers' health and safety by adhering to their obligations to offer universal coverage for occupational health and safety services."

The report warns that work-related ailments and injuries place a load on health systems, limit productivity, and can have a disastrous effect on household earnings.

Between 2000 and 2016, global work-related deaths per population decreased by 14%. According to the paper, this could be a result of advances in workplace health and safety. However, mortality from heart disease and stroke caused by prolonged work hours increased by 41% and 19%, respectively. This demonstrates an upward trend in the prevalence of this relatively recent psychosocial occupational risk factor.

This first collaborative global monitoring report from the WHO and the ILO will enable policymakers to monitor work-related health loss on a country, regional, and global scale. This enables more targeted scoping, planning, costing, implementation, and evaluation of appropriate actions aimed at improving the health and equity of employees. The paper concludes that additional effort is required to create healthier, safer, more resilient, and more socially just workplaces, with workplace health promotion and occupational health services playing a critical role.

Each risk factor entails a distinct set of preventive actions, which are detailed in the monitoring report to assist governments in consultation with businesses and workers. For instance, preventing exposure to excessive working hours involves agreement on healthy maximum work hours. Dust management, ventilation, and personal protective equipment are all advised for reducing workplace exposure to air pollution.

“These estimates give critical information about the disease burden at work, and this knowledge can be used to design policies and practises that promote healthier and safer workplaces,” said Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization. “Governments, employers, and employees can all take steps to decrease workplace exposure to risk factors. Additionally, risk factors can be mitigated or avoided by modifying work routines and systems. As a last option, personal protective equipment can also help safeguard workers who are unable to avoid exposure due to their jobs.”

“Nearly two million of these premature deaths are preventable. “Action must be taken based on available research to address the evolving nature of work-related health threats,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the World Health Organization's Department of Environment, Climate Change, and Health. “Ensuring worker health and safety is a shared responsibility shared by the health and labour sectors, as is ensuring that no worker is left behind in this regard. In the spirit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, health and labour must collaborate to reduce this massive illness burden.”

“International labour standards, as well as WHO/ILO tools and guidelines, provide a solid foundation for establishing robust, effective, and sustainable occupational safety and health systems at all levels. Adhering to them should contribute greatly to the reduction of these deaths and disabilities,” said Vera Paquete-Perdigao, Director of the ILO's Governance and Tripartism Department.

Workers in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific, as well as males and those over the age of 54, die at a disproportionately high rate of work-related deaths.

The paper cautions that the total burden of disease at work is likely much greater, as health loss from various more occupational risk factors must yet be measured in the future. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic's consequences will add another dimension to this burden that will be included in future estimations.