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ILO Says Over 1 Million Work-Related Fatalities a Year Workplace Hazards Evolving as Technologies Develop

May 1999
Sheila Pantry, OBE

Over 1 million work-related deaths occur annually, according to ILO estimates, and hundreds of millions of workers suffer from workplace accidents and occupational exposure to hazardous substances worldwide.

Dr Jukka Takala, Chief of the ILO's Health and Safety programme, speaking in Sao Paulo at the 15th World Congress on Occupational Safety and Health, pointed out that the annual tally of 1.1 million workplace deaths exceeded the average annual deaths from road accidents (999,000), war (502,000), violence (563,000) and HIV/AIDS (312,000).

Industrialised countries such as the UK have seen a clear decrease 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 which saves lives in the event of accidents.

New hazards

However, the evolving nature of work is generating new occupational hazards, including musculo-skeletal problems, stress and mental problems, asthmatic and allergic reactions and problems caused by exposure to hazardous and carcinogenic agents. such as asbestos, radiation and chemicals.

The fatality rate in advanced industrialised economies is almost half that of Central and Eastern Europe, China and India. Construction sites in developing countries are 10 times more dangerous than those in industrialised countries.

Workers suffer approximately 250 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases each year. Deaths and injuries, he said, continue to take a particularly heavy toll in developing countries where large numbers of workers are concentrated in primary and extraction activities such as agriculture, logging, fishing; and mining - some of the world's most hazardous industries. Some 600,000 lives would be saved every year if available safety practices and appropriate information were used.

High Cost of Negligence

The economic costs of occupational and work-related injuries and diseases are rapidly increasing. Dr Takala says that 'while it is impossible to place a value on human life, compensation figures indicate that approximately 4 per cent of the world's gross domestic product disappears with the cost of diseases through absences from work, sickness treatment, disability and survivor benefits'.

Strategies to Improve Safety

`In countries at all levels of development', Dr Takala said, 'a large proportion of the deaths and injuries by workers can be attributed to inadequate safety and health information'. The ILO undertakes extensive research and publishes a large number of publications, including the ILO Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, which was published in an updated 4`" edition last year.

Dr Takala urged the Congress delegates to set measurable targets for improving occupational health and safety. These should include:

The ILO emphasises that key occupational safety and health Conventions such as No 155 on occupational safety and No 161 on occupational as health services - neither of which the UK has ratified - should be considered as minimum standards. In addition, the Global Safe Work Programme is being launched by the ILO to provide knowledge, advocacy and services in occupational safety and health and to place this high on the global, international and national agenda.

The International Labour Organisation is the United Nations agency with responsibility for work and employment issues, with headquarters in Geneva.

Further information

Carl David
ILO London
Millbank Tower
21- 24 Millbank

Tel: +44 (0) 171 828 6401 Ext: 201

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