WHO and ILO have presented their first comparative global monitoring report.

SW – 09/2021

The WHO (World Health Organisation) and the ILO (International Labour Organisation) estimated that work-related diseases and injuries were responsible for the deaths of about 1.9 million people in 2016. This is the conclusion of a study, carried out prior to the XXIIWorld Congress on Occupational Safety and Health that was published by both organisations in their first joint global 2000 - 2016 monitoring report.

Main causes of work-related fatalities

The main risk was the stress caused by long working hours, which was linked to about 750,000 fatalities. In a study that was published in May, the WHO and ILO had previously pointed out that long working hours of 55 hours a week or more would significantly increase the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke (see Report 05-2021). 

The number of work-related fatalities fell globally by 14 per cent between 2000 and 2016, which could be the result of improvements in occupational safety and health. However, the number of fatalities from heart disease and strokes related to long working hours had increased by 41 per cent for the former and 19 per cent for the latter. This clearly indicates an increasing trend in this psychosocial occupational risk factor.  

The majority of work-related fatalities were due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Non-communicable diseases accounted for 81 per cent of the fatalities. The leading causes of these fatalities were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (450,000 fatalities), strokes (400,000 fatalities) and ischaemic heart disease (350,000 fatalities). Work accidents caused 19 per cent of these fatalities (360,000 fatalities).

Avoiding premature fatalities

Work-related illnesses and injuries put a strain on healthcare systems and reduce productivity besides posing financial and health-related consequences for those affected and their families. These nearly two million premature fatalities could have been avoided. Measures based on available research would need to be introduced to address the evolving work-related health hazards.

Both the health and labour sectors are jointly responsible for ensuring the health and safety of workers. Both sectors need to work together to ensure that this major disease burden is eliminated in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Guy Ryder, the ILO secretary-general, pointed out that governments, employers and workers alike could contribute to reducing exposure to risk factors in the workplace. Risk factors could also be reduced or eliminated through changing the work processes and systems. As a last resort, personal protective equipment could help to protect workers who cannot avoid exposure to risks because of their work.

With the publication of their global monitoring report, WHO and ILO presented a global comparative risk assessment of the work-related disease burden. A presentation of the disease burden at country level, broken down by age and gender, is available at the following link.