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The world's workforce sustains more than 250 million injuries every year. Included in this number are 2 million people killed by their work each year. Occupational illnesses attributed to hazardous exposures or workloads may be as numerous as occupational injuries. The lack of adequate surveillance of occupational disease prevents accurate assessment of the problem. The global epidemic of occupational injury and disease is not new. It is inherent in the nature of industrial development that poorer countries adopt hazardous production. The resultant epidemic of injuries and illnesses is compounded by the rapid transfer by developed countries of hazardous industries no longer compatible with host country government regulation. While international standards attempt to obligate employers to pay for occupational injury and disease, inadequate prevention, detection, and compensation make a mockery of these standards.

Occupational injuries and diseases have a profound effect on the health of the world's population. Occupational injuries and diseases play an even more important role in developing countries where 70% of the working population of the world lives. Occupational injuries and diseases have a serious impact on the economy of all countries. Occupational accidents cause permanent disabilities and economic losses amounting to 4–6% of national incomes. These preventable injuries and diseases also have profound impacts on the work productivity, income, and social well-being of workers and their families. Often ignored is the reality that a single occupational injury or illness can tip an entire family into poverty.

Developing countries seldom have enforceable occupational and environmental regulations. Occupational health should have high priority on the international agenda, but occupational safety and health (OSH) laws cover only about 10% of workers in developing countries. These laws omit many major hazardous industries and occupations. Progress in bringing occupational health to the industrializing countries is painfully slow. In the poorest countries, there has been no progress at all.

Many other health issues compete with occupational and environmental health for scarce funding. Developing countries are concerned with overwhelming problems of unemployment, malnutrition, and infectious diseases. About 450 million people live in extreme poverty and malnutrition, while another 880 million live in what can only be described as absolute poverty. Nearly every fifth worker in the world has to survive on less than $1 a day for each family member. Sixteen million people die each year from easily preventable diseases, and occupational diseases are not included in that definition.

Working conditions in much of Latin America, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, China, India, and Southeast Asia are unacceptable. The labor force in developing countries totals around 1.8 billion, but it will rise to more than 3.1 billion in 2025—implying a need for 38–40 million new jobs every year. This being the case, demands by workers and governments for improved occupational safety and health are not likely to be heeded.

Developing countries are far behind industrialized countries in the ...

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