The latest estimates from the ILO for the year 2000 show that annually there are 2 million work-related deaths - more than 5,000 every day - and for every fatal accident there are another 500-2,000 injuries, depending on the type of job. In addition, the ILO said for every fatal work-related disease there are about 100 other illnesses causing absence from work.
In a report prepared for the XVIth World Congress on Occupational Safety and Health at Work, being held in Vienna, Austria, this week, the ILO said the number of estimated annual deaths among workers has clearly increased since 1990, mainly because work-related communicable diseases were not counted previously and the number of cases of work-related cancer and circulatory diseases have increased.
During this same period, figures for fatal accidents went up slightly in developing countries but decreased in most industrialized countries.
In his report to the Congress, Dr. Jukka Takala, director of the International Labour Office's InFocus Programme on Safety and Health at Work and the Environment (SafeWork), said about 270 million workers were involved in occupational accidents annually - of which approximately 360,000 were fatal - while another 160 million workers incurred occupational diseases.
According to the ILO figures, the biggest killer in the workplace is cancer, causing roughly 640,000 (32 percent) of deaths, followed by circulatory diseases (23 percent), accidents (19 percent) and communicable diseases (17). Asbestos alone, the report says, takes some 100,000 lives annually. Worse still, says Takala, 12,000 children die each year working in hazardous conditions.
Agriculture, in which more than half of the workers of the world are employed, is responsible for more than 50 percent of occupational fatalities, injuries and diseases, Takala said. He added a particularly heavy toll of dead and injured occurred in industries in developing countries where large numbers of workers are concentrated - agriculture, logging, fishing and mining.
Industrialized countries have seen a clear decrease in the number of serious injuries as a result of structural changes in the nature of work and real improvements in making the workplace healthier and safer, including improved first aid and emergency care, according to the ILO report.
The evolving nature of work, however, has generated new occupational hazards, including musculoskeletal disorders, stress and mental problems; asthmatic and allergic reactions; and problems caused by exposure to hazardous and carcinogenic agents, such as asbestos, radiation and chemicals.
Tomorrow: The high cost of negligence.