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Abstract

Richard Lord, www.rlordphoto.com

Workers around the world face similar workplace hazards of chemical, biological, physical, and psychosocial nature. In developing countries, however, workers share disproportionately in the burden of occupational disease and injury, partly because measures to prevent occupational risks are not cost–free, and the burden of bearing the costs affects the willingness of employers to implement preventive measures, even though work–related health conditions could be substantially reduced, often at a modest cost. Interventions in industrial countries that have reduced or prevented workplace injuries demonstrate the benefits to society, employers, and workers. Reductions of risk for back pain and for lung disease are two such examples.

Recent efforts by international bodies help to demonstrate the burden of occupational health problems in both human and economic costs. While the data are incomplete, they show significant impact from conditions that are largely preventable. Strategies for controlling injury and occupational disease include a hierarchy of controls that starts by substituting major hazards from materials or processes with less hazardous ones.

Intervention strategies have been developed for international, national, workplace, and individual levels. Implementation of programs requires sustained governmental attention to the health of workers, whether at a national or local level. Research efforts are needed on industry– and country–specific bases to determine the effectiveness and costs of various interventions.