Chemical safety

Exposure to hazardous chemicals at work and resulting health impacts: A global review

This report provides the most recent evidence base for chemical exposures and resulting health impacts in the world of work, as well as insights into regional trends, gender considerations and priority action areas.

Workers around the world are facing a global health crisis due to occupational exposure to toxic chemicals. Every year more than 1 billion workers are exposed to hazardous substances, including pollutants, dusts, vapours and fumes in their working environments. Many of these workers lose their life following such exposures, succumbing to fatal diseases, cancers and poisonings, or from fatal injuries following fires or explosions. We must also consider the additional burden that workers and their families face from non-fatal injuries resulting in disability, debilitating chronic diseases, and other health sequela, that unfortunately in many cases remain invisible. All of these deaths, injuries and illnesses are entirely preventable.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has long recognized that the protection of workers from hazardous chemicals is essential to ensuring healthy populations as well as sustainable environments. Nevertheless, workers continue to be disproportionally exposed to chemicals across almost all workplace sectors. Production of chemicals as well as the industries using them are expanding, which means a high potential for increased occupational exposure. Moreover, with new chemicals introduced every year, mechanisms for regulating exposure such as the implementation of occupational exposure limits, struggle to keep up. There is therefore an urgent need to take action and implement a range of effective measures to prevent harm to workers, their families, and wider communities.

This global review was undertaken in order to provide a sound evidence base towards policy efforts. As such, it represents a much needed analysis of recent trends and priorities when it comes to protecting the health and safety of workers from occupational chemical exposures.