Comparative analysis of the burden of injury and illness at work in selected countries and regions

Jukka Takala, Päivi Hämäläinen, Noora Nenonen, Ken Takahashi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Developed countries have made tremendous progress in Workplace Safety and Health in terms of reducing the burden of occupational injuries caused by accidents. Developing countries and transition economies experience both high injury and illness risks at work. There is a clear need to look more carefully at the long latency diseases and disorders caused by work. In order to have a baseline for priority setting and future work, a better picture of the burden
caused by work is needed. Data on both fatalities and non-fatal outcomes, attributable fractions based on the exposure-outcome relationship, Labour Force Surveys including ad hoc modules on workplace injuries and ill-health and data from several comparable countries have been obtained, modified, adapted, and used. Comparisons between countries are not straightforward but an effort has been made to compare numbers and rates. Globally there were 2.3 million work-related deaths in 2011. While cancers (666,000 deaths) and cardiovascular diseases (827,000 deaths) kill much more workers than injuries (353,000 deaths), the number of Years of Lives Lost to work-related injuries is still very high as those injured were much younger than, for example, those who died from work-related cancers. Various estimates indicated that largely comparable numbers exist for work-related cancer, while other work-related diseases, disorders and injuries were less comparable due to non-coverage of some and poor coverage of others. For major countries and regions, China had 173,000 work-related cancer deaths while the European Union (EU28) had 103,000. China’s workforce is around three times bigger but also younger than that of EU28. China had an estimated 99,000 injury deaths at work while EU28 had 4,700 such deaths. For smaller comparable countries, Hungary had 96 fatal
occupational injuries, 3,986 work-related disease deaths, totalling 4,082 deaths. Singapore had 115 fatal occupational injuries based on compensation records, and an estimated one work related suicide and 1,323 fatal work-related diseases totalling 1,439 fatal work-related injuries and illnesses. Hungarian and Singaporean burden and fatal work-related disease cases and rates of work-related diseases were comparable taken the size of workforce. Fatal injury rates in these countries are at the same level than in most Western European countries and Japan and are among the 20 safest countries globally. Of individual factors causing deaths asbestos appears to be the most significant one with an estimated 237,000 (184,000 – 290,000) work-related deaths. In workers’ self-reported surveys carried out in 2007-2008, Hungarian and Singaporean non-fatal injury rates were also comparable. Later surveys showed increasing non-fatal trends and compensation sources indicated lower fatality trends. Background data for calculations and comparative tables are presented in separately available datasets by WHO regions and country and based on the 2014 ILO study. The authors concluded that health disorders at work are much
less comparable than fatal injuries across countries and regions. Future studies can improve the estimates but there is no reason to wait for further research to start taking action to reduce both injuries and illnesses. Many work-related diseases, such as occupational cancers can be eliminated by reducing the exposures. Applying a mindset of Vision Zero and Zero Harm at work is needed for eliminating or radically reducing the burden of injuries and illnesses from work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-31
JournalCentral European Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


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