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Almost 2 million lives lost annually to workplace exposures, WHO and ILO estimate

Photo: World Health Organization

Geneva, Switzerland — Work-related injuries and illnesses resulted in 1.9 million worker deaths worldwide in 2016, according to estimates recently released by the World Health Organization and International Labor Organization.

In a report issued Sept. 17, the organizations say the majority of the deaths were linked to cardiovascular or respiratory diseases. Workplace injuries accounted for 19% of the deaths, or around 360,000.

“It’s shocking to see so many people literally being killed by their jobs,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release. “Our report is a wake-up call to countries and businesses to improve and protect the health and safety of workers by honoring their commitments to provide universal coverage of occupational health and safety services.”

WHO and ILO looked at 19 workplace risk factors, including long working hours and exposure to air pollution and noise, as well as ergonomic risk factors. Working long hours contributed to an estimated 750,000 deaths. Exposure to air pollution (i.e., particulate matter, fumes or gases) was linked to 450,000 deaths.


“These estimates provide important information on the work-related burden of disease,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in the release, “and this information can help to shape policies and practices to create healthier and safer workplaces. Governments, employers and workers can all take actions to reduce exposure to risk factors at the workplace. Risk factors can also be reduced or eliminated through changes in work patterns and systems. As a last resort, personal protective equipment can also help to protect workers whose jobs mean they cannot avoid exposure.”

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