MANILA, Philippines – Approximately two million people die each year due to work-related diseases while 160 million more are afflicted by non-fatal occupational illnesses, a new report of the United Nations labor agency said.
The report, titled “The Prevention of Occupational Diseases,” said work-related illnesses kill six times as many people as on-the-job accidents but tend to attract less attention.
Out of an estimated 2.34 million annual occupational deaths, the vast majority – approximately two million people – are disease related.
The report said that due to technological and social changes, as well as difficult global economic conditions, existing health hazards remain a persistent threat to workers all over the world while new health risks have also emerged.
In particular, well-documented occupational diseases such as pneumoconioses and asbestos-related illnesses remain widespread.
The new report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) issued in time for the World Day for Safety and Health at Work calls for an “urgent and vigorous” global campaign to tackle the growing problem.
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In a statement marking the report’s release, ILO director general Guy Ryder warned that occupational diseases have a profound impact on the productivity of companies and the lives of workers and their families.
“The ultimate cost of occupational disease is human life. It impoverishes workers and their families and may undermine whole communities when they lose their most productive workers,” Ryder said, adding that the productivity of enterprises ends up reduced while the financial burden on the state increases as the cost of health care rises.
Meanwhile, new diseases such as mental and musculoskeletal disorders are on the rise.
“Where social protection is weak or absent, many workers as well as their families, lack the care and support they need,” Ryder said. “A fundamental step is to recognize the framework provided by the ILO’s international labor standards for effective preventative action and to promote their ratification and implementation.”
Along with the serious impact on personal health, occupational diseases also carry an enormous cost, resulting in an annual four percent loss in global gross domestic product or an estimated $2.8 trillion, the UN agency reported.
“Significantly reducing the incidence of occupational disease is not simple, it may not be easy and it will not happen overnight, but progress is certainly feasible,” Ryder said. –Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star)