Global OHS statistics and trends

It is very easy to forget that workplace health and safety is a global issue.  The pressures of work and the daily OHS issues can constrict our perspective for so long that we are surprised when we are reminded that people work everywhere and are therefore in danger in some way.

An article (citation below) from the  Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health released online on 12 November 2009 is just one of those reminders that we need every so often.  The article is called “The global and European work environment – numbers, trends, and strategies” and says

“We have estimated that globally there are 2.3 million deaths annually for reasons attributed to work.”

For the statistics junkies, the article goes on to report that 1.95 million of the annual deaths are due to illness and

“The average rate of disability and absence from work can be some 25% of the workforce in Europe.”

“The biggest causes of work-related illness in Europe are musculoskeletal diseases and psychosocial disorders (mental health)….”

“Work-related stress….affect(ed) an estimated 22% of EU workers in 2005…”

By looking at a variety of statistical records, the authors conclude that

“In the present political situation and serious economic downturn, legal measures need to be supplemented with economic justification and convincing arguments to reduce corner-cutting and avoid long-term disabilities, premature retirement, and corporate closures due to a poor work environment.”

The relationship between fatalities and other outcomes of work injuries and illnesses

The researchers advocate an integrated approach to managing safety in a workplace and list a “toolbox” of suggested areas.  Many of these are already in place in many management systems.

This sort of global data is not going to change the management or operational practices in individual workplaces.  That change will mostly come in response to site-specific events or initiatives.  Governments need to know these statistics and trends so that they may plan strategic programs or structure their legislation but it is equally important for citizens and OHS professionals to be aware of this data for it is the citizens who hold governments accountable.

Kevin Jones

Takala J, Urrutia M, Hämäläinen P, Saarela KL. The global and European work environment – numbers, trends, and strategies. SJWEH Suppl. 2009;(7):15–23.

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