Another chapter from my book, 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know, published in 2003, by Disinfo.
For more on me, please check out The Memory Hole.
The United Nations’ International Labor Organization has revealed some horrifying stats:
The ILO estimates that approximately two million workers lose their lives annually due to occupational injuries and illnesses, with accidents causing at least 350,000 deaths a year. For every fatal accident, there are an estimated 1,000 non-fatal injuries, many of which result in lost earnings, permanent disability and poverty.
The death toll at work, much of which is attributable to unsafe working practices, is the equivalent of 5,000 workers dying each day, three persons every minute. This is more than double the figure for deaths from warfare (650,000 deaths per year). According to the ILO’s SafeWork programme, work kills more people than alcohol and drugs together and the resulting loss in Gross Domestic Product is 20 times greater than all official development assistance to the developing countries.
Each year, 6,570 US workers die because of injuries at work, while 60,225 meet their maker due to occupational diseases. (Meanwhile, 13.2 million get hurt, and 1.1 million develop illnesses that don’t kill them.) On an average day, two or three workers are fatally shot, two fall to their deaths, one is killed after being smashed by a vehicle, and one is electrocuted. Each year, around 30 workers die of heat stroke, and another 30 expire from carbon monoxide.
Although blue collar workers face a lot of the most obvious dangers, those slaving in offices or stores must contend with toxic air, workplace violence, driving accidents, and (especially for the health-care workers) transmissible diseases. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns that poisonous indoor air in nonindustrial workplaces causes “[t]housands of heart disease deaths [and] hundreds of lung cancer deaths” each year.
But hey, everybody has to go sometime, right? And since we spend so much of our lives in the workplace, it’s only logical that a lot of deaths happen — or at least are set into motion — on the job. This explanation certainly is true to an extent, but it doesn’t excuse all such deaths. The International Labor Organization says that half of workplace fatalities are avoidable. In A Job to Die For, Lisa Cullen writes:
In the workplace, few real accidents occur because the surroundings and operations are known; therefore, hazards can be identified. When harm from those hazards can be foreseen, accidents can be prevented….
Most jobs have expected, known hazards. Working in and near excavations, for example, poses the obvious risks of death or injury from cave-in …. When trenches or excavations collapse because soil was piled right up to the edge, there is little room to claim it was an accident.
References: International Labor Organization. “Workers’ Memorial Day Ceremony to Focus on Emergency Workers, Firefighters.” Press release, 24 Apr 2002. • Cullen, Lisa. A Job to Die For: Why So Many Americans Are Killed, Injured or Made Ill at Work and What to Do About It. Common Courage Press, 2002. This book uses the following as its sources for the US statistics I’ve cited: Bureau of Labor Statistics and Costs of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses by J. Paul Leigh (University of Michigan Press, 2000).