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Occupational Illness and Disease

  • Occupational cancer is now the leading cause of compensated work-related deaths in Canada, exceeding those from traumatic injuries and disorders. Nationwide, the high risk industries for occupational cancer are manufacturing, construction, mining and, more recently, government services. 1
  • Work-related accidents and diseases kill 2.2 million people worldwide each year, according to International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates. Of these deaths, almost 4 out of 5 (1.7 million) are due to work-related disease.2
  • Musculoskeletal disorders are one of the most pressing workplace diseases today. According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, workplace ergonomic-related injuries are responsible for more than 40 per cent of lost-time injuries. The direct costs totalled more than $3 billion from 1996 to 2004.3
  • One in every 46 Canadian workers covered by provincial or territorial compensation systems was injured severely enough to miss at least one day of work in 2008. That represents one compensated time-loss injury for every two minutes worked.4
  • With the exclusion of the territories, where the number of workers is too small for valid statistical comparisons, the provinces with the highest occupational fatality rates in 2008 were: Newfoundland and Labrador, with an occupational fatality rate of 10.7 per 100,000 workers covered; followed by Alberta at 9.0 and Ontario at 8.2.4
  • A 2005 study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that 16 percent of disabling hearing loss in adults is attributed to occupational noise. Researchers found that occupational noise is a significant cause of adult-onset hearing loss.5
  • A study by the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail found that more than 230,000 Québec workers are exposed to at least one known or probable carcinogen, and if other carcinogens, such as radon were taken into account, that number would increase significantly.6
  • In Quebec, nearly 100,000 young people ages 15 to 24 work in sectors where more than 15 carcinogens have been identified. Researchers say it is evident that the best strategy remains prevention, as cancers take several years to develop.6
  • A review of Canadian workplace injuries and illnesses from 1996 to 2008 estimates the total costs to the Canadian economy at more than $19 billion annually. The estimates are based on workers compensation statistics reported by each province and territory.4
  • A study in 2013 on the productivity-related savings associated with employee participation in health promotion programs found that employees who participated in a program and successfully improved their health care or lifestyle showed significant improvements in lost work time. These employees saved an average of $353 per person per year, which reflects about 10.3 hours in additional productive time a year.7


1. Bianco, Ann Del, PhD, & Demers, Paul A., PhD. (2013). Trends in compensation for deaths from occupational cancer in Canada: a descriptive study. Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3: E1-E6. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20130015.
2. International Labour Office. (2005). FACTS ON Safety at Work. International Labour Organization.
3. Dubowski, Stefan. “Occupational diseases get primary treatment.” Canadian Occupational Safety, 5 November 2009. Web. 24 July 2013.
4. Gilks, Jaclyn & Logan, Ron. (2010). Occupational Injuries and Diseases in Canada, 1996 – 2008: Injury Rates and Cost to the Economy. Occupational Health and Safety Division, Labour Program, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
5. Nelson, Deborah Imel, Nelson, Robert Y., Concha-Barrientos, Marisol, & Fingerhut, Marilyn. (2005). The global burden of occupational noise-induced hearing loss. Am. J. Ind. Med., 48: 446–458. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20223.
6. Labrèche, France, Ostiguy, Claude, Goyer, Nicole, Baril, Marc, Duguay, Patrice, & Boucher, Alexandre. (2012). General profile of Québec workers’ exposure to carcinogens. Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail.
7. Mitchell, Rebecca J., MPH, Ozminkowski, Ronald J., PhD, and Serxner, Seth, PhD. (October 2013). Improving Employee Productivity Through Improved Health. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 55, No. 10: 1142-1148.