Many diseases develop at work places around the world due to factors and agents that are present at the work place. We call these “work-related diseases”.
There are a number of diseases that may be caused by factors present at the work place. Some of these diseases develop relatively quickly, while others develop over longer periods of time. It is important to note that being sick causes misery to both the affected workers and their families. The sick individual suffers and often experiences a reduced quality of life. Some may even die because of the disease. There are other costs in addition to reduced productivity and work capacity. The family may be impoverished by huge medical bills and loss of income. The social impact and cost of these diseases is enormous, both because of the loss of work activity but also because of the burden put on the health care and social security systems.
Sufferers of work-related diseases may lose their income and end up in poverty. ©Colourbox
While this negative impact is true for most diseases what makes work-related diseases different is that if it were not for the exposure at work, the patient might have been healthy.
Implementing an effective registration system is a good tool for evaluating the incidence of occupational diseases. Such data can be a great help in preventive work. Sudden changes and increases in incidence rates can provide an impetus for implementing improvements. When this kind of data is gathered over longer periods of time, the information can also be used to evaluate whether specific measures have given any effect.
Hardly any country in the world has reliable statistics concerning the burden of work-related diseases. Even in a developed country such as Norway, for instance, underreporting of work-related diseases is a major problem. Only a small fraction of work-related diseases are reported: we only see the tip of the iceberg. It has been estimated that work-related chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in Norway is underreported by 97-98 %.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem, we will present some estimates published by The International Labour Organization (ILO). For those of you who are not familiar with ILO, it is a United Nations agency dealing with labour issues, particularly international labour standards, social protection, and work opportunities for all.
Estimates published by The International Labour Organization (ILO). ©University of Bergen/Arjun Ahluwalia
ILO has estimated that more than 160 million cases of work-related diseases occur globally each year. 2 million people die due to different work-related diseases every year. This means that EVERY day, about 5500 workers die as the result of a preventable disease, which has been induced or aggravated by a particular exposure in the workplace.
© University of Bergen/Author: G. Tjalvin