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A new study on work-related causes of deaths finds long working hours to be the biggest occupational risk factor. The joint study by the World Health Organization and International Labor Organization estimates nearly 2 million people a year die from work-related diseases and injuries.

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is shocking to see so many people literally being killed by their jobs. He said every single work-related death is preventable with the right health and safety measures in place.

“More than 80% of work-related deaths are due to non-communicable diseases, primarily cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, which are caused by or made worse by factors in the workplace,” Tedros said. “Long working hours are the single deadliest occupational risk factor accounting for 750,000 deaths each year.”

The study considers 19 occupational risk factors, including exposure to long working hours, exposure to air pollution in the workplace, as well as carcinogens and noise. Most of the deaths — 80% — are due to occupational non-communicable diseases, the remaining 20% are due to on-the-job accidents. 

Frank Pega is WHO Technical Officer, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health. He said those most at risk are males and people aged over 54 years. He said a disproportionately large number of work-related deaths occur in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. 

“Within these regions, we can also say that low- and middle-income countries are more affected than high-income countries, and I think … with disadvantaged workers, specifically informal economy workers,” Pega said. “So, informal economy workers probably work in jobs that have less protection and, therefore, are exposed to more occupational risk factors.”

The report cities North Korea as the country with the largest burden of work-related deaths, averaging 79.5 deaths per 100,000 working age population of 15 years or older.It is followed by Indonesia and Nepal. Tied for fourth with 43.7 deaths per 100,000 workers are Bangladesh and India. 

The study does not include data on the impact of COVID-19 work-related deaths. The authors say this information will be captured in future estimates. 


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