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
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
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
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.