Moving knowledge of global burden into preventive action

American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Volume 48, Issue 6, Pages 395 – 399. Accepted: 18 August 2005. Published Online: 18 Nov 2005. [Link]

Gerry J.M. Eijkemans, MD, MPH 1 *, Jukka Takala, DSc (Tech) 2

1Occupational and Environmental Health, Protection of the Human Environment, World Health Organization, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland
2InFocus Programme SafeWork, International Labour Office, ILO, Geneva, Switzerland

email: Gerry J.M. Eijkemans (

*Correspondence to Gerry J.M. Eijkemans, Occupational and Environmental Health, Protection of the Human Environment, World Health Organization, WHO, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland.


Background: Estimation of the global burden of disease and injury due to selected occupational factors is a topic of interest to policy makers, governments, and international bodies. The World Health Organization (WHO) has implemented a Comparative Risk Assessment (CRA) to estimate risk to exposed populations.

Methods: Estimates of the risk factor-burden relationships by age, sex, and WHO subregion were generated. Risk measurements (relative risks and mortality rates) for the health outcomes were determined primarily from studies published in peer review journals. The resulting burden was described as the attributable fraction of disease or injury, using both mortality and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).

Results: The papers in this issue include discussions of worldwide mortality and morbidity from lung cancer, leukemia, and malignant mesothelioma arising from occupational exposures; mortality and morbidity from asthma, COPD, and pneumoconiosis; the global burden of low back pain; exposure to contaminated sharps injuries among health care workers; noise-induced hearing loss; and occupational injuries. Three papers focus on economic issues: estimation of net-costs for prevention of occupational low back pain; cost effectiveness of occupational health interventions; and the cost effectiveness of interventions in the prevention of silicosis.

Conclusions: The magnitude of the occupational health burden in the world is overwhelming, and the causes and mechanisms are multiple and complex. Commitment from all stakeholders is imperative to translate economic progress into sustainable human development and well-being.