In April 2015, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4,585 people in the country were killed at work in 2013. Experts say, however, that the death toll from occupational disease in America may be 10 or more times higher. Workers in developing nations almost certainly have it worse.
For this reason, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the organisation representing 176 million workers belonging to 328 national union affiliates, is campaigning for the removal of exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace, with a special focus on cancer.
“Chemicals we would have imagined by now would be globally banned keep popping up,” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow told reporters from the US Center for Public Integrity. “We see emerging fears around some of the new technological issues such as nanotechnology… it’s extraordinary, really. There’s a lot of fear amongst workers.”
Anabella Rosemberg, ITUC’s policy adviser on occupational health, safety and environment and the author of a new guide to help workers ‘stop deadly exposures’, added: “The reality is, workers have very little capacity today to track exposures in their careers. When workers change sectors or companies very often, we don’t have health systems that allow them to know what substances they’ve been exposed to.” The burden is on the worker to prove harm, Rosemberg said. “This needs to change.”