Occupational accidents and diseases
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work estimates that every year about 5,500 people are killed in the workplace across the European Union, with another 4.5 million accidents resulting in more than three days absence from work (amounting to around 146 million working days lost). These accidents are estimated to cost the EU about 20 billion euro. The problem affects all sectors of the economy and is particularly acute in enterprises with less than 50 workers. Accidents and occupational diseases can give rise to heavy costs to the company, particularly small companies. Preventing work accidents, occupational injuries and diseases has more benefits than just reducing damages: it has also been shown to be a contributory factor in improving company performance.
Increased female labour force participation has led to the recognition of a specific gender dimension of occupational accidents and diseases. Statistics published by the European Union statistical office, Eurostat, demonstrate that, while women generally suffer lower rates of accidents and occupational illness than men, women account for a high proportion of work-related health problems and are 1.5 times as likely to suffer from these problems. Women account for 45% of allergies, 61% of infectious diseases, 55% of neurological complaints and 48% of hepatitic and dermatological conditions. On the other hand, men account for 93% of musculoskeletal problems and haematological illnesses, 97% of hearing complaints and 91% of pulmonary illnesses.
As the economically active population of Europe increasingly includes a higher proportion of workers aged over 50, the risks to older workers of occupational accidents and diseases will become ever more statistically significant. For example, older workers, particularly those aged 55 and above, are likely to suffer the most serious accidents, compared to younger workers. Older workers have the largest incidence of long-term occupational illness and cardiovascular diseases, and asbestos-related cancer are especially common. In part, this is because older workers are generally less qualified and are over-represented in manual industrial occupations.
See also: asbestos; dangerous substances; dangerous workplaces; European Agency for Safety and Health at Work; health and safety; night work; protective equipment; shift work; stress at work; working time.