New ILO/WHO work fatality figures must spur action

photo: Kazi Salahuddin Razu / NurPhoto / AFP

New figures jointly released by the ILO and the WHO identify that 19 work-related risk factors cause some two million deaths each year.

However, adding in causes of death by risk factors not included in the joint report and filling in information gaps from poor record-keeping brings the real world total closer to three million deaths, and even that is likely to be an underestimate.

In a speech at this week’s World Congress on Safety and Health, ITUC Deputy General Secretary Owen Tudor said: “The mounting toll of deaths due to work will only be stopped by making occupational health and safety a fundamental right at work along with the other ILO Fundamental Rights – freedom of association, collective bargaining and freedom from discrimination, child labour and forced labour.

“This must be finalised at the annual ILO Conference next year, to spur stronger action by governments to prevent death and disease at work, in both the private and public sectors.”

Until the ILO recognises occupational health and safety as a fundamental principle and right at work, people will continue to die needlessly because of their jobs. One worker dies every 10 seconds, yet we know what needs to be done to protect people:

  • risk assessments;
  • universal access to occupational health services;
  • participation by workers and unions from workplace health and safety committees on national safety institutions;
  • giving workers the right to refuse dangerous work; and
  • requiring the reporting of diseases caught or made worse by work.

“We also look forward to the ILO and WHO completing the picture by capturing accidents and diseases that are not covered in their recent announcement, including the list contained in ILO Recommendation 194,” added Owen Tudor.