This article reviews the present indicators, trends, and recent solutions and strategies to tackle major global and country problems in safety and health at work. The article is based on the Yant Award Lecture of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at its 2013 Congress. We reviewed employment figures, mortality rates, occupational burden of disease and injuries, reported accidents, surveys on self-reported occupational illnesses and injuries, attributable fractions, national economic cost estimates of work-related injuries and ill health, and the most recent information on the problems from published papers, documents, and electronic data sources of international and regional organizations, in particular the International Labor Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), and European Union (EU), institutions, agencies, and public websites. We identified and analyzed successful solutions, programs, and strategies to reduce the work-related negative outcomes at various levels. Work-related illnesses that have a long latency period and are linked to ageing are clearly on the increase, while the number of occupational injuries has gone down in industrialized countries thanks to both better prevention and structural changes. We have estimated that globally there are 2.3 million deaths annually for reasons attributed to work. The biggest component is linked to work-related diseases, 2.0 million, and 0.3 million linked to occupational injuries. However, the division of these two factors varies depending on the level of development. In industrialized countries the share of deaths caused by occupational injuries and work-related communicable diseases is very low while non-communicable diseases are the overwhelming causes in those countries. Economic costs of work-related injury and illness vary between 1.8 and 6.0% of GDP in country estimates, the average being 4% according to the ILO. Singapore's economic costs were estimated to be equivalent to 3.2% of GDP based on a preliminary study. If economic losses would take into account involuntary early retirement then costs may be considerably higher, for example, in Finland up to 15% of GDP, while this estimate covers various disorders where work and working conditions may be just one factor of many or where work may aggravate the disease, injury, or disorders, such as traffic injuries, mental disorders, alcoholism, and genetically induced problems. Workplace health promotion, services, and safety and health management, however, may have a major preventive impact on those as well. Leadership and management at all levels, and engagement of workers are key issues in changing the workplace culture. Vision Zero is a useful concept and philosophy in gradually eliminating any harm at work. Legal and enforcement measures that themselves support companies and organizations need to be supplemented with economic justification and convincing arguments to reduce corner-cutting in risk management, and to avoid short- and long-term disabilities, premature retirement, and corporate closures due to mismanagement and poor and unsustainable work life. We consider that a new paradigm is needed where good work is not just considered a daily activity. We need to foster stable conditions and circumstances and sustainable work life where the objective is to maintain your health and work ability beyond the legal retirement age. We need safe and healthy work, for life.
Keywords: burden of injury and illness at work; global estimates; mortality; occupational accidents; occupational exposures; work-related disease.