Millions of people worldwide die each year as a result of work-related accidents and illnesses. But experts at a recent congress in Frankfurt think that number can be reduced to zero.

The largest global occupational safety meeting opened in Frankfurt Monday with this vision: A world without fatal work accidents is possible.

The 20th World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, which wrapped up earlier this week, brought together around 4,000 occupational safety experts, policymakers and scientists to Germany's financial hub. Conference participants talked about ways to prevent workplace hazards and to increase safety on the job.

The global toll

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated around 2.3 million people worldwide die annually as a result of occupational illnesses and accidents. On top of this, some 860,000 accidents occur every day that do not result in death.

These work-related illness and accidents cost the international economy $2.8 trillion (2.1 trillion euros), according to ILO.

"These figures are unacceptable and yet these daily tragedies often fail to show up on the global radar," said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. "Clearly, there is still much to be done."

A world without work accidents

A big theme of this year's meeting is "Vision Zero," in which conference attendees talk about a world without any work accidents.

"Vision Zero is no ivory tower idea. It's feasible," said Joachim Breuer, managing director of German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV), an umbrella association of accident insurance institutions.

Last year Germany reported 874,514 work accidents, of which 455 were fatal, according to the DGUV. This amounted to 9.6 million euros being paid out by insurers and trade associations for rehabilitation and pensions.

A century of change

But DGUV's Breuer is optimistic. He cited the association's statistics for Germany. A hundred years ago in this country, there were 10,000 deaths per year at work, he said, but last year that figure was less than 500 deaths for the first time.

And the number of accidents had been cut in half in the past 20 years alone, he added.

"This success is not just specific to Germany - it's repeatable," Breuer said. "Experience and many examples from our international partner organizations have shown us this."