BELCHERTOWN, Massachusetts — Developing nations suffer from a range of issues that make occupational health and safety difficult to implement. Low levels of political will and dysfunctional government institutions allow for almost zero regulation in the work place. Seemingly harmless jobs, which are properly regulated in industrialized countries, become dangerous jobs for those in developing nations.
Governments of developing nations are enticed by the potential billions of dollars to be made by allowing weak restrictions on occupational safety. A recent trend in multinational corporations to move production from industrialized countries to developing nations is partly due to the fact that they can increase profits if there are fewer rules for them to follow.
If corporations do not have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on safety equipment or have to worry about lawsuits for long-term health problems from their employees, their profits can increase. Governments benefit from this through a small amount of taxation as well as a greater cash flow through their country.
More than the lure of money, though, is one of the biggest challenges developing nations have to face in order to advance occupational health; facilitating, understanding and implementing scientific research on this subject.
Many developing nations have no way of translating new research into sound government policies. This is due to weak government institutions but also the lack of a strong scientific community.
In the United States, regardless of the political atmosphere, occupational scientists have succeeded in real changes because of their concrete evidence. Developing nations have trouble convincing their governments that occupational health safety is needed because no scientific community on this subject exists.
In order to understand the gravity of this issue, a full scale increase in surveillance of morbidity and disease rates in developing nations is necessary. Currently, few statistics on these issues are available. The limited research that exists however points to a few jobs that could be considered dangerous.
In many developing nations, the majority of the population works in agriculture, which happens to be one of the three most dangerous jobs. In fact, 70 percent of the worlds rural poor work in this field. Sadly, many of these workers are children; around 60 percent of all child laborers work in agriculture.
What makes working in this field so dangerous stems from “exposure to the weather, close contact with animals and plants, extensive use of chemical and biological products, difficult working postures and lengthy hours, and use of hazardous agricultural tools and machinery.”
These factors then lead to health problems like neurotoxicity, reproductive issues, skin diseases, various injuries from equipment, musculoskeletal disorders due to heavy lifting, respiratory diseases caused by hazardous fumes, cancer caused by various biological agents and pesticides and dehydration or skin cancer caused by working long hours outside. What is worse, all of these issues have the potential to be fatal.
These health issues can also spread to the community at large. Often agricultural workers live and work on the farm with their families. Some of these negative health affects can be seen in the families.
Mining is considered by some to be the most dangerous job, but it is at least in the top three. Miners have to deal with airborne hazards, which can be “several types of particulates, naturally occurring gases, engine exhaust and some chemical vapours” as well as physical hazards like “noise, segmental vibration, heat, changes in barometric pressure and ionizing radiation.”
Free crystalline silica is the most common airborne hazard that miners are exposed to. Silica leads to the health condition called silicosis which can lead to deterioration of the body or death. Exposure to silica can also cause “tuberculosis, lung cancer and of some autoimmune diseases.”
Both open air mines and underground mines are exposed to silica as well as other airborne hazards and dust. Miners who work underground though are at an increased risk of the damaging effects because of poor ventilation. The hazards that come from continuous inhalation of dust and hazardous chemicals can lead to chronic emphysema and bronchitis.
This job is particularly prevalent in developing nations. The United Nations estimates that around one million children work in the mining industry. A few countries that are heavily invested in mining are Brazil, China, India and Chile.
Garment workers, which are almost 80 percent women, suffer from long term effects due to the environment in which they work. The factories tend to lack proper ventilation and are often over congested. The workers are forced to work long hours as well.
These factors contribute to serious health issues like headache, eye strain, chest pain, fainting, hepatitis (jaundice,) fungal infection, diarrheal disease, asthma, musculoskeletal pain or dermatitis.
Garment factories are abundant in developing nations. Most notably is Bangladesh but there are many in Central America, Mexico, China and even Cambodia.
With all of the aforementioned jobs, there is one thing they share: each job causes high levels of stress. Stress alone can cause a slew of health problems, which can exacerbate the already damming affects specific to these jobs like exposure to chemicals and working long hours.
So how can these dangerous jobs, and others like them, increase occupational safety and regulations in developing nations? One way is to convince the governments involved that it is in their best interest.
Occupational health scientists have proved “there are clear empirical links exist between good occupational health practices, a healthier labor force and improved productivity.” International labor and health organizations should work within these developing nations to get stronger worker rights as well as convince the government of the evidence that healthier and safer workers are better for the country and the economy. They would be able to argue for stricter regulations if more research and concrete evidence could be used to show the negative health effects resulting from these jobs.
The International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization are working towards ending occupational health hazards in developing nations. From supporting programs that end the distribution of hazardous chemicals to pushing for better health care for these workers, international organizations are doing what they can to help.
– Eleni Lentz-Marino
Sources: NCBI, ILO 1, ILO 2, World Bank, IFPRI, Dasnet Group, WebMD, FAO, Environmental Health Journal, Occupational Knowledge International, PBS, Women in Informational Employment