An industrial accident is one which takes place while work is being carried out; there are millions of industrial accidents throughout the world every year. Some of them are fatal, others result in permanent disablement, either complete or partial. The majority cause only temporary disablement, which, however, may last for several months. The contraction of certain types of disease, the presence of which may not be detected until long after the causative occupation has been left, is another form of industrial "accident". In addition to a loss of time and money, all accidents cause suffering to the victim and the family.
A 2005 assessment of workplace accidents and illness indicates that the risk of occupational disease has become by far the most prevalent danger faced by people at their jobs accounting for 1.7 million annual work-related deaths and outpacing fatal accidents by four to one. Each year there are some 268 million non-fatal workplace accidents in which the victims miss at least three days of work as a result, as well as 160 million new cases of work-related illness. The ILO has previously estimated that workplace accidents and illness are responsible for the loss of some four per cent of the world's GDP in compensation and absence from work.
The extent of industrial accidents and injuries varies widely over countries, industries and time periods, as also do the legislative provisions for the regulation of industrial processes and the installation of safety devices.
The number of job-related accidents and illnesses is to be rising because of rapid industrialization in some developing countries. This is happening because in the newly developing countries workers are often coming out of the rural areas, with few skills and very little training in safe work practices. Most have never worked with heavy machinery, and some have little or no experience with industrial hazards such as electricity, so they don't know how dangerous these things can be. Yet these are elements of the kinds of jobs that are available for low skilled workers in rapidly industrializing countries.
Broken down by region, the 2005 figures indicate that workplace accidents have levelled off in many industrialized and newly industrialized countries, while some countries now undergoing rapid development in Asia and Latin America are experiencing increases. For example, the ILO analysis showed that while the number of fatal and non fatal workplace accidents held steady or declined in most regions, in China the estimated number of fatal accidents rose from 73,500 in 1998 to 90,500 in 2001( the latest year with available data), while accidents causing three or more days absence from work increased from 56 million to 69 million. Meanwhile, in Latin America, a rise in the total number of persons employed and growth in the construction sector, particularly in Brazil and Mexico, appear to have lead to an annual increase in fatal accidents from 29,500 to 39,500 over the same time period. Statistics in many industrialized countries are limited to a single category of accident, namely those accidents serious enough to require more than first-aid treatment and which therefore generally result in absence from work, prolonged invalidity or death. In many countries, these health risks are covered by social insurance schemes whose operation generates as a by-product the existing statistics. Industrial accidents which do not result in time off work are therefore virtually always missing from the statistical picture, even though safety experts and theoreticians consider such "minor" accidents to be at least as important as more serious accidents for understanding and knowledge of unsafe situations and behaviour.
Every year in the UK about 1,000 people are killed at their work. Half a million workers suffer various injuries, and 23 million working days are lost annually because of industrial injury and disease. In the USA the frequency rate for disabling injuries (the number of reportable cases per million work-hours) rose from a low of 5.99 for 1961 to 10.87 for 1976, representing a huge increase of 81%. It was also estimated that accidents cost the nation US$ 51,100 million in lost wages, medical expenses, damage to property and administration costs. In 1976 alone, a million productive work-years were lost through accidents at work. These figures mean that injuries to workers would have had the same economic effect on the USA as if the whole of the nation's industry had been closed for one full week.