The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates about two million workers lose their lives each year due to occupational injuries and illness. The Geneva-based organization says at least half of the deaths from accidents could be prevented by safe working practices.
The ILO says on-the job accidents kill 350,000 people a year, and that all accidents are avoidable and preventable if proper safety measures are applied.
The ILO says for every fatal accident, an estimated 1,000 non-fatal injuries occur. Many of these result in lost earnings, permanent disability and poverty.
It notes hazardous substances kill 340,000 people a year. It warns exposure to daily occupational hazards such as dust, chemicals, noise and radiation cause untold suffering and illness. These include cancers, heart diseases and strokes.
ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, who calls the statistics "horrible figures," said few protests are heard about these death and accident rates because they generally occur out of the public glare. "One would never think that we have 5,000 people dying every day of work-related accidents and diseases," he said. "And yet the consciousness is not there because it is dispersed. It is all over the place. But the day-to-day individual reality of a worker who has gone sick or has died is not something that we see. So the question of consciousness is truly extremely important in order to act."
Mr. Somavia said the ILO believes the world has a moral obligation to act. He says work kills more people than alcohol and drugs, and also takes a heavy economic toll. "And if there is one thing that workers and employers know, it is that this affects productivity," he said. "And this is one of the areas in which there is most understanding between employers and workers and we need to act together in order to reduce these calamities. Our [studies] show that when there is real social dialogue among employers and workers and community consciousness, risks to health and safety and exposure to hazards are reduced."
Mr. Somavia said agriculture, construction, and mining are the three most hazardous occupations in developing and industrialized countries.
The ILO chief says when workers and employers can organize and bargain freely the situation dramatically improves. He says these findings must be part of future strategies to promote safety and health at work.