Advancing the safety, health and sustainability of the global workplace.

Issue 3 November 2014

As occupational safety and health professionals and advocates our first thoughts are often on physical injuries of workers. What about occupational diseases?
What is occupational disease?

The ILO defines occupational disease as any disease caused by exposure to agents arising from work activities. These diseases can be caused by chemical, physical and biological agents and by infectious or parasitic diseases.  

Some facts: 
  1. The cost of work-related disease in the EU is estimated to be at least 145 billion euros per year. 
  2. Occupational diseases kill six times as many people each year as industrial accidents but remain largely invisible in comparison. 
  3. The nature of occupational disease is changing rapidly - technological and social changes, along with global economic conditions, are aggravating existing health hazards and creating new ones. 
  4. Globally, more than half of all countries still do not collect adequate statistics for occupational disease, hindering the development of effective preventative measures. 
  5. The ILO estimates that 160 million cases of non-fatal work-related disease occur annually.  

The ILO published a report in 2013 entitled

"The Prevention of Occupational Diseases."  

Despite the fact that an estimated 2.02 million workers die every year from occupational diseases, meaningful indicators have yet to be developed to enable proper tracking and management of the issue. 


5500 out of 6300 daily work-related fatalities are caused by occupational diseases. Yet in a report published in 2013 on the 100 most sustainable organizations, CSHS found that none of the organizations reviewed reported on fatalities caused by occupational diseases. 


A common misconception of occupational diseases is that they are only seen in specific industries.  One such disease is pneumoconiosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust and often associated only with coal mining. However, the 2013 ILO study reveals that only 18.8% of those reported with pneumoconiosis contract it from coal mining and that it is also seen in stone cutting, construction and many other industries.
A wide variety of occupational diseases ravage workplaces around the world, with varying effects across regions, exact locations and relative wealth. The most frequently reported (35%) occupational illnesses are a result of circulatory diseases, followed by malignant neoplasms (cancer) (Nenonen et al).

Where do they occur? 

The chart below provides information on the distribution of work-related illness by region as defined below by the World Health Organization. This chart depicts the distribution of each type of illness in each of the regions:

Breaking down the distribution of these illnesses we can see where each illness is causing the most damage:

Region Code and Definition

Top Disease
High income countries

Malignant Neoplasms

Low & middle income countries in the African region

Communicable Disease

Low & middle income countries of the Americas

Malignant Neoplasms
& Circulatory Diseases

Low & middle income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region

Circulatory Disease 

Low & middle income countries of the European region

Circulatory Disease

Low & middle income countries of the Southeast Asia region

Circulatory Disease

Low & middle income countries of the Western Pacific region

Malignant Neoplasms
Circulatory Diseases
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What is CSHS doing to help?

As outlined in a 2013 CSHS report, one of the great barriers that inhibits real change in the improvement of occupational illness at the workplace is the lack of meaningful indicators available for recording and benchmarking performance in these areas.  

The CSHS Advisory Council, comprised of leaders in the occupational safety and health community, have been working to not only develop these indicators but also define a set of best practices for reporting and recording when and where these diseases occur. 

The questions the Advisory Council are considering: 
  • Which diseases and how will they be reported? 
  • How will individuals, organizations and health care providers manage and report occupational diseases that occur decades later? 
  • How will countries with poor healthcare and weak infrastructure report these diseases? 
Tools & resources from around the world

More information on occupational diseases:
Resources for managing psychosocial risks: 
What can you do? 


In early November IOSH launched the No Time to Lose Campaign, dedicated to advancing awareness of occupational cancers.  Follow the campaign @_NTTL on Twitter and on Google+.
IOSH campaign to spread awareness of occupational cancers.
Have you seen our new website?

Center for Safety and Health Sustainability  
1800 E. Oakton St.
Des Plaines, IL 60018
United States

Our Mission:
For all organizations to consider the safety, health and well-being of workers, customers and the community as part of their sustainable business practice.