The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Office (ILO) warned the governments of the world over the cost of occupational-related diseases and injuries.
BY NOEL SALES BARCELONA
Annually, 1.1 million people die because of unsafe and unhealthy work environments, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO).
That is why the two institutions call on the governments of the world to create immediate, ethically correct and economically sound measures to improve the working conditions of the world’s labor force. Failure to do so, the two institutions stated, will mean serious and costly consequences.
1.1 million deaths due to occupational health hazards
Former ILO-International Programme on Safety and Health at Work and the Environment (SafeWork) director Dr. Jukka Takala, chief of the ILO’s Health and Safety Program said in a statement that hundreds of millions of people throughout the world are employed in conditions that breed ill health and are unsafe.
“Occupational-related injuries and illnesses kill about 1.1 million people (yearly). This is equivalent (to) the number of people who die with malaria,” said Dr. Takala in a statement.
This figure includes around 300,000 fatalities from an estimated 250 million accidents in the workplace, which often lead to partial or complete loss of capacity to work and to generate an income, the occupational health and safety expert said.
At present, said the ILO and WHO, an estimated 160 million new cases of work-related diseases annually occur in the world, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, cancer, hearing loss, musculoskeletal and reproductive disorders, mental and neurological illnesses.
During the 98th Session of the International Labor Conference (ILC) in Geneva, it was revealed that in 2003, there were about 358,000 fatal and 337 million non-fatal occupational accidents in the world, and 1.95 million deaths from work-related diseases.
Based on the ILO data, the number of deaths caused by hazardous chemicals alone was estimated at 651,000 that year.
Globalization is to blame
Dr. Richard Helmer, WHO director for occupational health, said that from the occupational health perspective, trends toward globalization of trade pose certain health risks.
“For example, in order to reduce costs, industries with their accompanying occupational hazards are being relocated to developing countries—home to 75 percent of the global workforce,” says Helmer.
“As a result, what is an economic blessing today may lead to considerable deterioration in the health status of working populations of the developing world tomorrow,” he added.
Occupational health and safety hazards are costly
The cost of occupational diseases and injuries is enormous, the experts said.
“Although the cost of these injuries and deaths is incalculable in terms of human suffering, their economic costs are colossal at the enterprise, national and global levels. When taking into account compensation, lost working time, interruption of production, training and retraining, medical expenses, social assistance, etc., these losses are estimated annually at 5 percent of the global gross national product (GNP),” said the ILO report.
“The annual economic cost of major industrial accidents is estimated at US$5 billion. It must be recognized that the best estimates may well underestimate the true economic and social costs because of the under-reporting of occupational accidents and the failure to recognize the work-related origins of certain diseases,” it continued.
Compared to the 1997 data, the global economic losses resulting from work-related accidents and illnesses have reached an estimated 4 percent of the world’s gross national product (GDP), and this is likely to increase in years to come.
In 1992, total direct and indirect costs associated with work-related injuries and diseases in the USA were estimated at US$171 billion, surpassing those of AIDS-related illnesses and at par with those of cancer and heart disease.
In Great Britain, the overall health cost to the British economy of all work accidents and work-related illnesses was estimated at between £6 billion (US$9.3 billion based on the 1995 average exchange rate) and £12 billion ($18.6 billion) respectively, in 1994.
In the Philippines, based on the 1998 data of the Department of Labor and Employment’s Occupational Safety and Health Center (DoLE-OSHC), the disabling injuries in that year led to some 144,600 man-days lost and an estimated total amount of P10.3 million ($257,500) economic loss categorized as: compensation cost, P7,488,094.33 ($187,202.36); medical cost, P1,310,681.2 ($32,767.03); and burial cost, P1,437,573.00 ($35,939.325).