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Fewer deaths at work

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén

The number of deaths in Nordic workplaces continues to fall, according to preliminary figures collected by NLJ for last year from Finland, Sweden and Denmark. But there has been an increase in fatal accident in Norway, a trend which has repeated itself for the past three years.

“It looks like we no longer can talk about a fall or stabilisation of the number of workplace related accidents in Norwegian working life,” says Ingrid Finboe Svendsen, Director of the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority.

NLJ’s preliminary figures remain to be controlled and are still not quite comparable, but they indicate a trend. According to Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority statistics 48 people died performing paid work in 2013 compared to 37 the year before. The figures for Sweden were only 33 compared to 45 in 2012 and 57 in 2011. In Denmark the number of deaths reached 36 last year compared to 40 people in 2012 and 40 in 2011. 

Statistics from Finland will not be ready before March-April, but the preliminary figure is 19 deaths. Head of workplace safety at the Federation of Accident Insurance Institutions, Janne Syvä-Aho, still reckons the final figure to be closer to 25-30 deaths. The numbers for 2012 and 2011 were 28 and 26. Deaths during work related travel are not included in these figures.

According to Syvä-Aho, the differences between the number of fatal accidents stem first and foremost from different industry structures. In Finland the three most dangerous sectors are heavy industry, construction and transport. The primary sector is not included, but it is in the Norwegian figures. The number of accidents also tend to follow the economic cycle.

“During a depression there is less manufacturing, construction and transport.”

Finland has slowly managed to reduce the number of deaths. In 1963 452 people died at work, ten years later the number was 321. In later years the number has stabilised at around 40-50 deaths with an additional 200-210 deaths as a result of workplace-related diseases. There are other reasons besides safety campaigns behind the improved figures. 

“You could imagine that first aid has improved so that people no longer die like they would have ten years ago. These figures are difficult to interpret,” says Syvä-Aho.

The annual international World Day for Safety and Health at Work is coming up — it falls on 28 April every year. The campaign was launched in 2003 by the ILO, the UN’s agency for labour issues. The ILO estimates that more than 2.3 million people die because of their work every year. Out of these 321,000 are pure accidents, while the vast majority are a result of various work related diseases like cancer, cardiac and vascular disease or respiratory disease.

A research overview from The Swedish Work Environment Authority published in 2010 shows that such estimates are still subject to “considerable degrees of uncertainty”. In only a few cases is it possible to establish with certainty that an illness is work related. The researchers still conclude that at least 1,000 deaths a year in Sweden are work related, many times more than the number of pure workplace accidents.




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