Work-related harm remains one of the most under-estimated risks globally

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New data from the World Risk Poll reveals that in 2021, almost a quarter (24%) of people worldwide said they or someone they know had experienced serious harm from the work they did; but fewer than one in five (19%) worry that they might be harmed at work.

This gap between people’s perceptions of risk and their experience of risk while at work highlights a safety challenge, as people may underestimate the possibility of being injured in the workplace.

This trend was primarily driven by the Northern/Western Europe (12% experienced, 6% worried) and Southern Europe (20% experienced, 6% worried) regions. However, countries as diverse as Italy, Switzerland, Afghanistan, and Vietnam stood out as places where the percentage of workers who had personally experienced work-related harm in the past two years was particularly high relative to their level of worry about work-related risks.

Italy is the most pronounced national example of this trend, with more than a third (36%) saying they have experienced harm from work – and a further 18% knowing someone who has – but only 16% saying they are very worried about it.

Financially vulnerable workers were most likely to report work-related harms

Experience of work-related harm was most common among low-income workers, who are more likely to have jobs involving physical labour, such as agricultural work, or in manufacturing settings, where hazards are more common. In 2021, a quarter (25%) of workers worldwide who said they were finding it ‘very difficult’ to get by on their current income had personally experienced serious workplace harm in the past two years, compared with 9% of those who reported they were ‘living comfortably’ on their current income and 10% who were ‘getting by.’

More than a third of people said they were very worried about work-related harm in Central/Western Africa (37%) and Southern Africa (34%), closely followed by South Asia (32%) and Eastern Africa (30%).

Globally, experience of work-related harm is higher than worry about such harm.

24% of people said they had experienced or knew someone who had experienced serious harm from their work. However, only 19% said they were very worried about such harm.

The World Risk Poll highlights clear gaps between perception and experience of work-related harm. Understanding these gaps can help policymakers and businesses address these commonly experienced but under-estimated risks, informing effective interventions and communications.

Dr Sarah Cumbers

Director of Evidence and Insight, Lloyd’s Register Foundation 

Where do people most worry about and experience serious work-related harm?

Have you, or someone you personally know, experienced serious harm from work in the past two years?