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The global right to return home safely from a day’s work

Poppy Barnett and Supriya Banerjee-Halliday, of the workplace injury team, consider what the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) report says about the risk of death and serious injury at work.

Posted on 25 October 2021

“It’s shocking to see so many people literally being killed by their jobs”.

This quote, by the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), relates to the first joint global monitoring report of the WHO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) into work-related burden of disease and injury. The report found that 1.9 million people died from work related injury and disease in 2016.

This global monitoring report, published on 17 September 2021, is the WHO’s most comprehensive study of work-related burden of disease and it is the first ever joint assessment of its kind with the ILO.

In 2019 the two international bodies signed a Collaboration Agreement to commit to producing these estimates regularly.

It is hoped that the outcomes of the report can be used to identify areas where action needs to be taken to reduce exposure to workplace place injury and disease at global, national, and regional levels.

However, it is important that policymakers and decision-makers are not complacent. The production of this report is only the first step in bringing about systematic change; it is paramount that results are acted upon and that there is a commitment to prevent exposure to occupational risk factors. As detailed therein  “this report is a snapshot of a wider problem. The challenge for all of us now is to act on what it is showing us.”

The report looks at deaths and “disability-adjusted life years” lost due to a specific risk factor. “Disability-adjusted life years” (DALYS) is a time-based measure that combines years of life lost due to premature death, time lived in states of less than full health and years of healthy life lost due to disability.

Occupational injuries caused the highest number of DALYs lost in 2016 (29.5% globally). Occupational injuries and ergonomic factors were the third largest attributable causes of death in 2016 (19.4%).

Road injuries made up the highest number of deaths within the occupational injuries risk factor.  This area showed an increase in the percentage of deaths and DALYs in 4 out of 6 sub-categories.  This is evidence that more needs to be done in this area to protect workers on the road. 

Workers found to be at specific risk of death or injury from work-related activities were those in the construction sector.  Although construction workers were reported to have less chance of dying from falls than before, they remain at an increased risk of serious and life changing injuries.

Out of occupational ergonomic factors the proportion of DALYs increased for back and neck pain by 20.1%.  This is a substantial increase and is seen to result from prolonged sitting and manual handling of loads.  

This area affected workers from all sectors, specifically “agriculture, construction, transport and communication, manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, health and social work, and mining”.

This report shows that there have been some improvements in occupational health and safety globally. However, such accidents are still the third largest cause of death and they are the largest cause of life changing injury globally. Further work is clearly required on a largescale basis to make workplaces safer.

Everyone has the right to return home safely from a day’s work.  The impact of such accidents and injuries devastates lives of workers and their families. They also have a significant impact on the working population of a country and so too its economy.

On a global scale there is a vested interest to make workplaces safe, we must strive to continue to improve safety at work.

As Dr Maria Neira of the WHO states, “ensuring health and safety among workers is a shared responsibility of the health and labour sector, as is leaving no workers behind in this regard.” Let’s hope for a global commitment that no workers are left behind.

For a discussion into the report’s findings regarding exposure to asbestos, see Casey Foden’s blog.

Poppy Barnett Feb2023
Road traffic collisions Workplace Injury

Poppy Barnett

Poppy is a personal injury associate solicitor

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