Six times the number of workers die from occupationalrelated diseases than die from workplace injuries

Six times the number of workers die from occupational-related diseases than die from workplace injuries.

AIHce 2013: Is There Too Much Emphasis Placed on Reducing Workplace Injuries?

While many EHS programs focus on the prevention of workplace injuries and on workplace conditions that could contribute to fatal injuries, the real concern should be on work-related illnesses and exposure to hazardous substances, says one expert.

Globally, 2.3 million people die each year due to workplace hazards. While 318,000 of these deaths are due to occupational injuries, most – 2.02 million – are due to work-related illness. Although the greatest emphasis in most industries and workplaces is focused on reducing workplace injuries, the biggest killers of workers are cancers and work-related circulatory diseases, which between them account for 55 percent of all worker deaths. Injuries account for 18 percent.

“There are 37,000-61,000 deaths per year in the United States from occupational cancer,” noted Dr. Jukka Takala, PhD, BSc, MSc, who gave the William P. Yant Award lecture at the American Industrial Hygiene conference and expo in Montreal. The award is presented annually to an individual residing outside of the United States for outstanding contributions in industrial hygiene or allied fields.

Takala, who is executive director of the Workplace Safety and Health Institute, Ministry of Manpower Services Centre in Singapore, noted that nearly that many deaths occur each year as a result of occupational-related circulatory and respiratory illnesses, although many of these cases are not linked back to occupational exposures even though there is a connection. “Occupational diseases are common,” said Takala. “Common diseases are occupational.”

The Global Competitiveness Report assesses the competitiveness landscape of 144 economies, providing insight into the drivers of their productivity and prosperity. The 2012-2013 report findings show that Switzerland tops the overall rankings with Singapore remaining in second place, followed by Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Japan. It’s not a surprise to Takala that these same countries place importance on workplace safety.

“Competitiveness and safety have a clear relation,” said Takala. “The less we have injuries, the higher is the competitiveness and productivity.”

While workplace injury rates are dropping in industrialized countries thanks to prevention efforts, rates of work-related illnesses are on the rise and can have long latency periods and their onset often is linked to aging. 

“I’m often asked about the future of work,” said Takala. “The future of work is having a safe job.”

He said he often hears people saying that employees should leave work at the end of their shifts in the same healthy condition in which they came into work, but he offers a different perspective: “People should go to work for 20 or 30 years, retire at 60 or 65, and return home as safe and sound as when they started working and we’re far, far from that."

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