Some 2.2 million people worldwide die of work-related accidents and occupational diseases each year, according to a new report prepared by the United Nations’ International Labour Office (ILO) and presented this week at the 17th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work.

The report, “Decent Work – Safe Work,” says the 2.2 million figure may be vastly under-estimated due to poor reporting and differing recording criteria from country to country. While the number of work-related illnesses and deaths has lessened somewhat in industrialized countries, the ILO report said the number of accidents — especially fatal accidents — appear to be increasing, particularly in some Asian countries, due to rapid development and the strong competitive pressures of globalization.

According to the National Safety Council, the U.S. organizers of the World Congress, while there is no comprehensive tracking of all occupational disease related deaths in this country, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does track work-related accidents and reported a total of 5,915 work injury deaths, including homicides and suicides in 2001, a comparable time period to the ILO report. Nonfatal work injuries recorded by employers and reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics were 5.2 million in that same period. From 2001 through 2003, the U.S. workforce grew +1.7% and the number of work injury deaths and total recordable cases declined -3.6% and -16.3%, respectively.

“Every day, on average, some 5,000 or more women and men around the world lose their lives because of work-related accidents and illness. Decent work must be safe work, and we are a long way from achieving that goal,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia.

“Injury prevention is no longer a luxury for the developed world," said Alan C. McMillan, president and CEO of the National Safety Council and Secretariat for this year’s World Congress. "As populations grow and economies develop, millions throughout the world are taking on new jobs and new risks like never before. Safety and health cannot remain on the backburner as an option in doing business. The well-being of workers and their families must be at the forefront, a core business value, in all industries, in every corner of the world."

In order to move toward a global culture of workplace injury and illness prevention McMillan recommends the development of workplace safety and health infrastructures — tailored to each nation's needs — to promote more accurate injury and illness recording and reporting; establishing practical governmental policies so that nations can effectively implement safety and health interventions; and sound workplace management systems that integrate safety & health practices and procedures into the business activities of the enterprise.