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A Toxics-Free Future


Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes

The UN Special Rapporteur for toxics, Baskut Tuncak, authored an important new report concerning the human rights of workers exposed to toxic substances and will present it at the upcoming 39th session of the Human Rights Council. The report is relevant to formal and informal workers dealing with pesticides and industrial chemicals of all kinds.

Tuncak focused on the topic, “to improve the integration of human rights into occupational safety and health discussions at the national and international levels” because, “the issue has been largely forgotten and deprioritized in relevant international forums, resulting in a lack of global progress in confronting the growing concern.” 

The report presents some startling facts about the impacts of toxic chemical exposures on workers:

  • It is estimated that one worker dies every 15 seconds from toxic exposures at work.
  • Over 2,780,000 workers globally die from unsafe or unhealthy conditions of work each year.
  • Occupational diseases account for 2.4 million (over 86 percent) of total premature deaths.
  • Cancers account for over 70 percent of occupational diseases globally and are estimated to cause the deaths of at least 315,000 persons annually.
  • 5.3–8.4 percent of all cancers, and 17–29 percent of deaths from lung cancer among men, are attributed to occupational exposure to toxic substances. Almost all such cancers can be prevented.
  • Occupational exposures result in 12 per cent of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and it is estimated that an additional 29,000 deaths are due to the occupational diseases silicosis, asbestosis and pneumoconiosis.
  • Official statistics are likely to underestimate the extent of the problem.

The 15 recommendations of the report and a few more excerpts are shown below. You can find the report here: