Early in 2019, OSHA cited a pet food company in Florida for failing to provide protective gear for workers handling corrosive chemicals, a Pennsylvania hair salon for exposing workers to hazardous materials, an Ohio musical instrument factory for exposing workers to toxic copper dust, and a Texas indoor gun range for exposing workers to unsafe levels of lead. Citations like that happen regularly, year-round, highlighting that even in a country with extensive worker safety rules, going to work is still a hazard for many.
In fact, it is often deadly: Around the world, a worker dies from toxic exposure in their workplace every 30 seconds, according to a 2018 UN report published in September by Baskut Tuncak, the United Nations special rapporteur on toxics. Every 15 seconds, a worker dies from dangerous working conditions in general.
In total, around 2.8 million workers globally die from unsafe or unhealthy work conditions per year, according to the report. And diseases resulting from workplaces—like lung cancer linked to inhaling carcinogenic substances on the job—account for around 86 percent of all premature death.
“More than 200 different known factors, including toxic chemicals and radiation, have been identified to date as known or probable human carcinogens, and workers are exposed to many of these in the course of their jobs,” the UN report reads. “Debilitating and fatal lung diseases, neurological disabilities, and reproductive impairments such as infertility and inability to carry a pregnancy to term are among various other health impacts that plague workers exposed to toxic substances.”