EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Occupational accidents and diseases

Eurostat data published in 2016 finds that in 2014 there were almost 3.2 million non-fatal accidents at work in the EU28 that resulted in at least four calendar days of absence from work, and 3,739 fatal accidents. This is a ratio of approximately 850 non-fatal accidents for every fatal one. There was a slight increase in the number of accidents at work in the EU28 between 2013 and 2014, with 49,000 more non-fatal accidents and 65 more fatal accidents. Men were considerably more likely than women to have an accident at work. In the EU28, more than two out of every three (68.7%) non-fatal accidents at work involved men.

The number of accidents in a particular year is likely to be related, at least to some extent, to the overall level of economic activity and the total number of persons employed. Accordingly, there was a reduction in the number of accidents at work in 2009, which may be attributed to the slowdown, stagnation or contraction of economic activity associated with the global financial and economic crisis.

An alternative way to analyse the information on accidents at work is to express the number of accidents in relation to the number of persons employed (referred to as the ‘incidence rate’). In any given country, this gives an indication of the likelihood of someone having an accident. For fatal accidents, this ranged in 2014 from less than 1.0 per 100,000 persons employed in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Finland (2013 data), Greece and the Netherlands, to more than 4.0 fatal accidents per 100,000 persons employed in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. For non-fatal accidents, the range was from less than 100 per 100,000 persons employed in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania to more than 3,000 per 100,000 persons employed in France. Particularly low rates in Bulgaria and Romania as well as in some other eastern EU Member States are mainly thought to reflect the fact in that these Member States the reporting systems offer no or little financial incentive for victims to report their accidents; the phenomenon of low non-fatal incidence rates can be considered to reflect under-reporting following the assumption that many accidents remain unreported. The situation regarding the incidence rates of fatal accidents is different, as it is much more difficult to avoid reporting fatal accidents. However, some experts argue that there could even be under-reporting of fatal accidents in some Member States.

Fatal accidents are relatively rare events. Because of this, incidence rates for fatal accidents can vary greatly from one year to the next, in particular in the smaller EU Member States.

Work-related ill-health and injury are estimated by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work to cost the EU about 476 billion euro a year (2017 figures), or around 3.3% of EU GDP. The problem affects all sectors of the economy and is particularly acute in enterprises with fewer 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.

EU-OSHA estimates that 52% of all work-related deaths are due to cancer, 24% are due to circulatory issues and 2% to injuries. Cancer also accounts for 25% disability-adjusted life years (DALY), with MSDs accounting for 15%.

Part of the gender difference in relation to accidents at work may be attributed to the fact that there are more men than women employed in the labour force — although after adjusting for this, the incidence rates recorded in 2014 for men remained consistently much higher than those for women in each of the EU Member States. In Sweden, the average (simple) incidence rate for non-fatal accidents at work in all activities for men was no more than 1.1 times as high as that recorded for women, while the gender gap was also relatively small in Denmark and France (as well as in Norway). By contrast, in Austria the rate for men was 3.3 times as high as that for women, rising to 3.5:1 in Malta and peaking at 3.8:1 in Romania.

Another reason why the incidence of accidents may be higher for men is linked to the economic activities where they are more likely to work. The number of accidents at work varies greatly depending upon the economic activity in question and is positively skewed in relation to male-dominated activities. Within the EU28, the construction, transportation and storage, manufacturing, and agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors together accounted for just over two thirds (67.2%) of all fatal accidents at work and somewhat less than half (44.9%) of all non-fatal accidents at work in 2014. More than one in five (20.9%) fatal accidents at work in the EU28 in 2014 took place within the construction sector, while the transportation and storage sector had the next highest share (16.6%), followed by manufacturing (15.4%) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (14.3%). Apart from transportation and storage, most service activities recorded relatively low shares of the total number of fatal accidents. Nevertheless, non-fatal accidents were relatively common within wholesale and retail trade (12.8% of the total in the EU28 in 2014), human health and social work activities (11.5%), administrative and support service activities (7.4%), as well as accommodation and food service activities (4.9%).

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.

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