As many as 5,000 people die every day as a result of work-related accidents or illnesses, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said.
Globalization is putting pressure on many countries
The UN body said the global death toll from work-related incidents and disease was an estimated 2.2 million a year, 10% higher than three years ago.
While fatalities have fallen in industrialized nations, they are on the rise elsewhere particularly in Asia.
The ILO estimates that 90,000 people lost their lives in China in 2001.
The majority of workers lack legal protection regarding safety issues while most cannot claim compensation for injuries or illnesses suffered in the workplace, the ILO warned.
The new research has been published to coincide with the Congress on Safety and Health at Work being held in the United States.
Concerted action is needed at national and international levels, the ILO said, to strengthen workplace safety regulations and to improve compliance by employers.
It said it was particularly concerned about the low level of reporting of workplace accidents by some countries, particularly developing nations.
India reported 222 fatal work-related accidents in 2001, but the ILO estimates the real figure to be closer to 40,000.
China, whose economic growth has been fuelled by a boom in construction and low-cost production, reported 12,554 fatal accidents in 2001. The ILO believes the actual death toll was closer to 90,000.
"The sad truth is that in some parts of the world, many workers will probably die for lack of an adequate safety culture," said Jukka Takala, director of the ILO's SafeWork programme.
"This is a heavy price to pay for uncontrolled development. We must act swiftly to reverse these trends."
Work-related accidents are particularly prevalent in developing countries with large mining, construction and agricultural industries which are facing "strong competitive pressures of globalization".
Workers in industrialized economies are vulnerable to communicable diseases such as malaria and exposure to hazardous substances.
The latter cause an estimated 440,000 deaths a year, with exposure to asbestos killing an estimated 100,000 workers every year alone.
Asbestos kills 100,000 workers every year
According to the ILO's research, HIV-AIDS has reduced the global workforce by up to 28 million people.
The ILO emphasised that progress was being made with 28 countries having signed up to its Convention on Asbestos and China have undertaken a national study of its occupational health and safety needs.
However, it stressed that some countries needed to introduce tougher laws governing workplace safety while enforcement must be beefed up.
"Inspectors should not be considered as nuisance or threats to business," it said. "Countries with the best inspection systems are also the most competitive ones worldwide."