Body Count

Whether or not a work-related death actually counts as such depends on where you live

Body Count That's because every country comes up with its own definition of a "workplace fatality" - thereby rendering international comparisons virtually meaningless.

Whether or not a workplace death counts depends on many variables across the developed world, including:

  • Whether or not you were driving
  • Whether or not that driving was during your commute or on the job
  • Whether or not an occupational illness is included in the body count
  • Whether you're a full-time or a part-time worker, a contractor or an undocumented immigrant
  • Whether or not you work with a gun
  • Whether or not asbestos is considered a workplace killer
  • Whether or not fatalities in the vocation of farming are included
  • How much time has passed between the occurrence of the workplace death and the filing of the accident report

Comparing apples to oranges

According to a December 2006 study released by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards and titled Five Deaths a Day: Workplace Fatalities in Canada: 1993 - 2005 [PDF], "significant definitional and methodological differences [exist] in workplace fatality data collection across countries."

Significant, indeed. Some of those differences are:

  • Occupational disease is not counted in the United States or the United Kingdom. And if you're a miner or construction worker exposed to asbestos, you'll only show up in Canada's fatality stats.
  • Time limits for reporting death after an injury or exposure vary. For example, Australia has a three-year time limit, Switzerland a one-year limit.
  • Deaths during the commute to/from work are not included … except in seven countries.
  • Most countries include road traffic accidents during work hours … but not the United Kingdom.
  • Some countries cover all sectors and vocations; others exclude workers in the armed forces and government. (Some sectors are obviously more at risk for workplace fatalities than others; check out target industry profiles by OSHA.)
  • Some places include the self-employed and non-insured; others don't. As a result of that discrepancy, the represented percentage of a country's working population ranges from less than 50 percent (Belgium) to around 100 percent (the United States).
  • The source of data used to gather the fatality stats varies. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, use a reporting and notification process. Other places, such as Canada, base their data entirely on accepted claims for compensation. (However, most agricultural workers are excluded for workers' comp schemes in Canada.)

How are you going to compare those apples and oranges?

Much more detailed stats about workplace fatalities across more than 150 countries can be found on the database Laborsta, maintained by the International Labor Organization.

Also check out the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations' 2006 report, Death on the Job: the Toll of Neglect.

And, if you wonder, "What are my odds of dying in general?" you can find out courtesy of the National Safety Council, which takes into account the probability of death both on and off the job.

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