Occupational diseases statistics
Data extracted in December 2020.
Planned article update: November 2021.
Between 2013 and 2018, the EU index value for the number of people (newly) recognised as having occupational diseases declined overall by 14 %.
Two occupational diseases recorded increases between 2013 and 2018: other enthesopathies (inflamed and painful joints; up 12 %) and mononeuropathies of upper limb (conditions affecting a single peripheral arm nerve, such as carpal tunnel syndrome; up 13 %).
Development of occupational diseases — total and groups, EU, 2013-2018
This article presents a set of main statistical findings in relation to indicators concerning occupational diseases in the European Union (EU).
The statistics presented are experimental. The data for the EU are based on (at most) information for 24 EU Member States (excluding Germany, Greece and Portugal). The EU data are complemented by profiles for individual Member States (available here with the dedicated section). The country profiles show the national situation in relation to a ‘core-list’ of occupational diseases (see here for the core list). The occupational diseases included in the core list were selected from the most reported occupational diseases by all participating countries, taken together. The criteria considered were: significant number of cases and recognition by the majority of the participating countries. Also for reasons of comparability, the focus of the analysis in this article is on developments over time (shown using an index, 2013 = 100) for the ‘core-list’ of diseases for the EU, rather than in terms of the absolute number of people recognised as having an occupational disease.
Figure 1 shows the development of the total index of the number of people recognised as having an occupational disease as well as information for four group indices (the two most aggregated levels of detail available).
Between 2013 and 2018, the total index for the number of people recognised as having occupational diseases declined overall by 14 %. Among the four groups of diseases for which subindices are available, stronger decreases were observed for selected occupational cancers (down 18 %) and pneumoconiosis (down 27 %). By contrast, there was little difference between the 2013 and 2018 figures for contact dermatitis (down 2 %) and selected musculoskeletal disorders (no change).
Developments for specific diseases
Figure 2 shows that all three occupational diseases that are not part of a (more aggregated) group recorded larger than average decreases between 2013 and 2018:
- for asthma the index was down 18 %;
- for other diseases of the inner ear it was down 22 %;
- for pleural plaque (the pleura is a membrane surrounding the lungs and lining the rib cage; exposure to asbestos can cause a thickening of the membrane) it was down 33 %.
Figure 3 presents data for two types of occupational cancers, malignant neoplasms of the bronchus and lung as well as mesothelioma (a malignant tumour that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibres and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart). Both of these occupational cancers recorded a lower level in 2018 than in 2013, down 7 % for mesothelioma and 16 % for malignant neoplasms of the bronchus and lung. For mesothelioma, the index had been stable until 2017 (falling or rising by at most just 1 % each year), and almost the whole decrease observed between 2013 and 2017 was in fact recorded in 2018 itself.
Pneumoconiosis is a group of diseases caused by the inhalation of dust. Indices for two sorts of pneumoconiosis are presented in Figure 4, the first relating to mineral fibres (such as asbestos) and the second to dust containing silica (silicon dioxide). The indices for both forms of pneumoconiosis were lower in 2018 than they had been five years earlier, down 41 % for pneumoconiosis due to asbestos and other mineral fibres and down 26 % for pneumoconiosis due to dust containing silica. For the former, this was one of the three largest decreases in occupational diseases recorded during the period 2013 to 2018 among the 16 occupational diseases for which data are presented; the other two occupational diseases with large reductions were musculoskeletal disorders, namely soft tissue disorders related to use, overuse and pressure down 42 % and other peripheral vascular diseases down 40 % (see Figure 6).
Contact dermatitis is a type of skin disease provoked by contact with a particular substance, with the skin typically becoming dry, blistered or cracked. Such dermatitis can be caused either by an irritant (something which damages the skin) or an allergen (something which provokes an immune response which damages the skin). From Figure 5 it can be seen that both of these occupational diseases recorded a lower level in 2018 than in 2013, down 20 % for the allergy-based variant and 23 % for the irritant-based variant. For the irritant-based variant, the index had increased in two years since 2013 and decreased in two others, such that by 2017 the index value was 5 % above the 2013 level. As such, the overall decrease between 2013 and 2018 mainly reflects the large fall (down 26 %) in 2018 alone.
The final figure — Figure 6 — presents the developments for seven musculoskeletal disorders. Among these, were two occupational diseases/conditions which recorded the largest and third largest decreases (among the 16 diseases covered by this article) between 2013 and 2018: soft tissue disorders (such as muscle or tendon injuries) related to use, overuse and pressure were down 42 % while other peripheral vascular diseases (blood circulation disorders) were down 40 % respectively. The seven selected musculoskeletal disorders also included the only two occupational diseases with a higher index value in 2018 than in 2013, namely other enthesopathies (inflamed and painful joints; up 12 %) and mononeuropathies of the upper limb (affecting a single peripheral arm nerve, such as carpal tunnel syndrome; up 13 %).
Source data for tables and graphs
Occupational disease statistics are based on administrative data collected nationally by various organisations, usually the national statistical offices. Regulation (EC) No 1338/2008 outlines the domain specific requirements of the data collection, for example in terms of the aim, scope, subjects covered, reference periods, intervals and time limits for data provision and metadata.
Germany and Greece did not take part in the pilot data collection while Portugal provided data for 2013-2015. As such, the data used to compile the indices for the EU are based on the availability among at most 24 EU Member States; the precise number varies between the individual diseases.
Core list of diseases
The core list (also referred to as the short list) of occupational diseases is composed of 16 diseases, of which 13 are presented in four groups.
- Selected occupational cancers
- C34 Malignant neoplasm of bronchus
- C45 Mesothelioma
- J61 Pneumoconiosis due to asbestos and other mineral fibres
- J62 Pneumoconiosis due to dust containing silica
- Selected musculoskeletal disorders
- G56 Mononeuropathies of upper limb
- I73 Other peripheral vascular diseases
- M51 Other intervertebral disc disorders
- M65 Synovitis and tenosynovitis
- M70 Soft tissue disorders related to use, overuse and pressure
- M75 Shoulder lesions
- M77 Other enthesopathies
- Contact dermatitis
- L23 Allergic contact dermatitis
- L24 Irritant contact dermatitis
The following are three occupational diseases which do not belong to any of the four groups identified above:
- H83 Other diseases of inner ear
- J45 Asthma
- J92 Pleural plaque
Although not presented in this article, the following information is requested for each recognised occupational disease case:
- age at the time of recognition of the occupational disease;
- employment status during the period of harmful exposure;
- occupation during the period of harmful exposure;
- economic activity of the employer;
- exposure factor.
Calculation of the EU index
For each disease (or group of diseases), the number of recognised cases is tabulated, showing the number for each year (from 2013-2018) for each EU Member State (among at most 24 Member States, for which data are available). Then, for each year and for each EU Member State, an index is calculated with a fixed base, namely the value for 2013. The EU index value is the median calculated across the Member States index values, for each year. The EU index value for 2013 equals by default to 100. More details are available in a methodological note.
The experimental nature of these statistics is mainly related to the fact that the data on recognised cases of occupational diseases reflect not only the occurrence of such diseases, but also the way in which the concept of occupational disease has been integrated into national social security systems. The existence of different legal systems and procedures for the recognition of occupational diseases in the EU makes comparisons difficult, noting that a low number of recognised cases of an occupational disease in a given EU Member State is neither a sign of the absence of such a disease nor necessarily a clear proof of successful prevention. In the same way, well-established detection systems and large-scale information campaigns could explain the high numbers of reported and recognised cases in some countries.
EU statistics on occupational diseases are essential elements in the European Commission’s strategy to assess the efficiency of EU legislation on health and safety at work. To improve the working conditions, knowledge of the numbers, rates, frequencies and trends of occupational diseases are fundamental. They allow preventive actions across the EU to be monitored and prioritised.
At the present time, there is not an EU-wide database concerning statistics on occupational diseases. The objective of the EU’s pilot exercise in this area is to respond to the need for data by gathering national data in a single database and from this starting point to provide information on the developments concerning the most commonly recognised occupational diseases within the EU. These requirements are underlined in Regulation (EC) No 1338/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008; annex V. Beyond providing information on the occurrence of diseases, these data could potentially provide other useful information regarding causality (exposure and medical consequences), which is needed for prevention and evaluation of occupational diseases. The pilot data collection aims to support further development of the European Occupational Diseases Statistics.
- Health, see:
- Health and safety at work (hsw)
- Occupational diseases (from 2013 onwards; source: EODS) (hsw_occ)
- EU index of occupational diseases (2013=100) – experimental statistics (hsw_occ_ina)
- Occupational diseases (from 2013 onwards; source: EODS) (hsw_occ)