In a context of a global pandemic, in which health has come to the fore in the battle to contain a virus that is skewing millions of lives, it is worth remembering that for thousands of people their work is their death sentence. Every day. “It is shocking to see how so many people literally die because of their work,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. The UN organization on Friday presented its most complete study to date on this matter, jointly with the ILO, which estimates that almost two million deaths in a year worldwide from labor causes. The most lethal factor detected is the long working hours.
His name was Xavi and he died at the age of 19 while working
This is a broad investigation, of which both organizations already offered a preview a few months ago, when they published the data precisely from deaths due to long working hours: 745,000 in one year. Now, international agencies share the complete study, with a broader view that includes more labor causes that cause the death of thousands of people.
“Work-related injuries and illnesses killed 1.9 million people in 2016, according to the first joint estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO),” he says. the study of United Nations entities.
According to the investigation ‘Joint WHO and ILO estimates of the burden of work-related illness and injury, 2000-2016: global monitoring report‘, most work-related deaths were ultimately due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. But the origin of these pathologies must be sought at work, in some of the 19 occupational risk factors that the study analyzes.
Researchers take into account these almost twenty occupational hazards, among which long working hours are the most deadly factor. As noted, the agencies estimate that working hours of 55 or more hours per week caused 745,000 deaths from strokes and ischemic heart disease in 2016.
Next in danger is exposure in the workplace to air pollution (suspended particles, gases and fumes), which in turn caused 450,000 deaths, according to the study.
These and other risks to which workers were exposed resulted in the following diseases, which resulted in deaths: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (causing 450,000 deaths), stroke (400,000 deaths) and ischemic heart disease (350,000 deaths ). Occupational injuries caused “19% of deaths (360,000 deaths),” says the report.
“A disproportionately high number of work-related deaths occur among workers in South Asia and the Western Pacific, as well as in men and in people over 54 years of age,” emphasize the WHO and ILO.
Deaths from long hours are on the rise
The WHO and ILO highlight that, in total, work-related deaths per population fell by 14% between 2000 and 2016. According to the report, this may be due to the introduction of health and safety improvements in the Workplace.
However, not all workplace deaths are reduced. Deaths from heart disease and cerebrovascular accidents associated with exposure to long working hours increased by 41% and 19% respectively in that period analyzed. “This reflects a growing trend for this relatively new and psychosocial occupational risk factor,” warn the researchers, who indicate that the number of detected occupational deaths may be lower than the actual number due to undetected risk factors.
“Avoidable premature deaths”
“These almost two million premature deaths are preventable,” said Maria Neira, director of the Department of the Environment, Climate Change and Health of the WHO. “Our report is a wake-up call to countries and companies to improve and protect the health and safety of workers by fulfilling their commitments to provide universal coverage of health and safety services at work”, has also demanded the WHO director.
International agencies underline the importance of the study, which lowers occupational risks and also recommends preventive measures to deal with them. “Each risk factor has a unique set of preventive actions, which are described in the follow-up report to guide governments, in consultation with employers and workers”; the WHO and the ILO stand out.
For example, for the prevention of exposure to long working hours, an agreement on healthy maximum working time limits is recommended. The “right to disconnect” from work is a debate that is gaining momentum in Europe, given the work overload of workers, which has worsened with teleworking. Eurofound recently published a study with recipes to facilitate this disconnection, how to do shorter meetings and bosses ‘lead by example’ in templates.
“These estimates provide important information on the work-related burden of disease, and this information can help shape policies and practices to create healthier and safer workplaces,” said Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General. .
The agencies have also recalled that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will add another dimension to this list of occupational hazards, which should be reflected in future estimates.