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Work-related diseases

In line with the EU Strategic Framework on Safety and Health at Work 2014-2020, one of EU‑OSHA’s priorities is to support the prevention of work-related diseases. The aim is not only to improve the lives of individual workers, but also to minimise the costs of work-related illnesses and deaths.

The number of workplace accidents has decreased by 25% over the last 10 years. However, work-related diseases still account for an estimated 2.4 million deaths worldwide each year, 200,000 of which are in Europe. 

EU-OSHA’s work on work-related diseases aims to provide an evidence base for prevention, policy and practice. Another important objective is to provide a better overview of the extent of the occupational burden of disease.

Work-related diseases include:

Current projects

EU-OSHA launched an overview project in 2015 which covers three areas of research, policy and practice on work-related diseases:

Definitions and regulations

A ‘work-related disease’ is any illness caused or made worse by workplace factors.This includes many diseases that have more complex causes, involving a combination of occupational and non-work-related factors.

An ‘occupational disease’ is any disease caused primarily by exposure at work to a physical, organisational, chemical or biological risk factor or to a combination of these factors. Occupational diseases are mostly those listed in national legislation as resulting from exposure to risk factors at work.The recognition of an occupational disease may be linked to compensation if it is clear that there is a causal relationship between an occupational exposure and the disease.

The European schedule of occupational diseases provides recommendations on which occupational diseases should be included in Member States’ national lists. It also makes recommendations on introducing rules for compensation, prevention and statistical data collection.

Guidance documents at the EU level and at national level define the diagnostic and exposure criteria for recognising a work-related disease as a listed occupational disease. Additional criteria apply for compensation, mostly linked to minimum degrees of injury or of work incapacity. Many Member States publish data on recognised occupational diseases in annual reports, for example on the state of occupational safety and health.

What causes diseases at work?

Many types of disease, including cancer, respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease, skin diseases, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health problems, can be caused or made worse by work. Although the underlying causes of such diseases may be complex, certain workplace exposures are known to contribute to the development or progression of a disease, including:

It is important to monitor closely the risks associated with such exposures and their combination with each other and with changing patterns of work.

Raising awareness and promoting prevention

Good practices at enterprise level include promoting a culture of risk prevention and well-being in the workplace. It is also vital that enterprises assess and manage risks and respect the hierarchy of prevention.

Other good ways to reduce the occurrence of work-related diseases are by using proactive monitoring to prevent ill health and by fostering a healthier workplace through workplace health promotion activities.