Today is World Day for Safety and Health at Work, or Worker’s Memorial Day.
Let me throw some stats your way:
Worldwide there are about 2.3 million fatal work-related deaths each year.
That is a lot.
You’re probably imagining these to be fatal accidents: falling from heights, being crushed, vehicular accidents at work, etc., but you’d be wrong! People still have a hard time grasping the fact that there are SIX TIMES as many deaths from occupational diseases as fatal work-related accidents.
Of the estimated 2.34 million annual work-related deaths, 2.02 million (86%) are due to work-related diseases. That’s 5,500 people dying from an occupational disease… each day! The International Labour Organisation (ILO) also estimates that 160 million cases of non-fatal work-related diseases occur annually.
These diseases include cancer arising from exposure to asbestos, silica, diesel engine exhaust, and other dusts and particles, all caused or made worse by people’s work. Unlike fatal accidents which are immediate, diseases arise many years, sometimes decades after exposure occurred, making it a little more challenging to definitively assign the workplace as the cause.
So why are these numbers so high even though we know quite a bit about the risks and have workplace health and safety management systems in place? There are many factors but one reason is that there’s been a shift from traditional risks to newly emerging ones. Some of the more ‘traditional’ risks have declined due to due to improved safety, technological advances and better regulation (although they continue to take a heavy toll on workers’ health).
But changes in the workplace brought about by technological advances and rapid globalization have been accompanied by emerging risks and new forms of occupational disease are increasing without adequate occupational health management systems in place; for example, new technologies, such as nanotechnologies pose new and unidentified occupational health hazards.
Emerging risks also include poor ergonomic conditions and psychosocial risks.
The theme being highlighted this year by the ILO is “Workplace Stress: a collective challenge”.
“Workers today are facing greater pressure to meet the demands of modern working life. Psychosocial risks such as increased competition, higher expectations on performance and longer working hours are contributing to the workplace becoming an ever more stressful environment. With the pace of work dictated by instant communications and high levels of global competition, the lines separating work from life are becoming more and more difficult to identify. In addition, due to the significant changes labour relations and the current economic recession, workers are experiencing organizational changes and restructuring, reduced work opportunities, increasing precarious work , the fear of losing their jobs, massive layoffs and unemployment and decreased financial stability, with serious consequences to their mental health and well-being.
In recent years, there has been growing attention to the impact of psychosocial risks and work-related stress among researchers, practitioners and policymakers. Work-related stress is now generally acknowledged as global issue affecting all countries, all professions and all workers both in developed and developing countries. In this complex context, the workplace is at the same time an important source of psychosocial risks and the ideal venue to address them in order to protect the health and well-being of workers.”
So how can this be prevented? It is important for everyone (government, employers, health and safety professionals, and workers) to be much more aware about occupational health risks, to assess them properly and put in effective measures to control them. Ultimately though it is the employer’s responsibility to act. Implementation of an occupational hygiene programmes is one of the most effective approaches. Effective is occupational hygiene is about anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of risks... all in an effort to prevent diseases from every taking place.
Many information sources are available from different occupational hygiene associations to help employers to do this (BOHS, IOHA, AIHA) and at IOM Singapore we offer occupational hygiene consultancy to support employers in all sectors to control the risks to health of their workers and to create a healthier more productive workforce. We also provide training for health and safety professionals.
If you have an interest in learning more about emerging occupational health hazards and the management of these risks, please consider joining us for one of our upcoming health and safety training courses:
“Nanomaterials Awareness”: /services/training-courses/nanomaterials-awareness/?eventid=263
“IOSH Safe Laboratory Work with Nanomaterials”: /services/training-courses/(nyp)-iosh-safe-laboratory-work-with-nanomaterials/?eventid=568
“W506 Ergonomics Essentials”: /services/training-courses/2016-w506-ergonomics-essentials/?eventid=262
< View all articles