Among the negative effects of living in a low-income country is the inadequacy of workplace safety. Regulations and monitoring organizations to protect workers might be absent. Without the resources for such programs, many developing nations and their citizens suffer high rates of work-related illness, accidents and death caused by unsafe workplaces.
Studies of occupational risk from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Tampere University in Finland show that workers in low and lower-middle income countries have a higher risk of falling sick or dying as a result of their occupation than workers in high-income countries. Up to 92 percent of all global workplace fatalities are reported in low-income countries. One example is the fatality rate of Myanmar, at 25 deaths per 100,000 workers, which is 30 times higher than the United Kindom, at 0.83 per 100,000.
This disparity is driven by a lack of occupational health services and monitoring in low-income countries. The risk becomes more pronounced within the following five most hazardous industries, which account for the majority of work-related harm.
5 Most Hazardous Industries
- Mining – Mining presents a great risk to workers and holds the highest share of work-related fatal injuries. In addition to the risk of cave-ins in underground mining operations, miners are often exposed to pollutants. These include asbestos, metal and silica dust, and radioactive waste. Exposure makes workers prone to respiratory diseases and lung cancers. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other respiratory diseases caused by the inhalation of dust, vapors, gases and fumes are the third largest cause of occupational fatalities overall.
- Construction – Work-related deaths in the construction industry make up about 30 percent of annual workplace fatalities. The ILO has determined that the risk of fatal injury to construction workers in low-income countries is three to six times higher than in more developed economies. Falls are the greatest threat to workers in the industry, but heavy machinery and electrocution also present a significant risk. Construction workers frequently face exposure to carcinogens and toxins like asbestos, resulting in long-term illnesses and disability.
- Agriculture – The agricultural industry makes up half of all global employment. The ILO estimates that at least 170,000 agricultural workers are killed per year in work-related accidents. Accidents often involve farming or fishing equipment, drowning, tree falls or agrochemical poisonings. Due to the number of workers employed in the industry and the frequency of informal farm work in low-income countries, injuries and fatalities in agriculture are likely to be underreported.
- Transportation – Most cases of occupational injuries occur in transportation-related events. Transportation is the top cause of workplace fatalities in the United States, and transportation workers are among the top five most frequently injured. Though often understudied, injuries and crashes among transport workers in countries like China have drawn attention, with one driver badly injured or killed every 2.5 days in Shanghai.
- Ship-breaking – The ship-breaking industry, often informal or illegal, is a growing concern for occupational safety monitors. Demolition involves frequent exposure to harmful chemicals, carcinogens, welding fumes and asbestos. The ILO reports the informality of the industry as its greatest threat to workers, saying: “Inadequate safety controls, badly monitored work operations and high risk of explosions create very dangerous work situations.” In Bangladesh, experts fear that environmental contamination from job sites threatens the health of neighboring communities.
A Trend Toward Safer Working Conditions
A growing number of countries have embraced efforts to increase regulation and monitoring of work conditions since the 1990s. Safety recommendations and training from the ILO have been implemented, with 134 nations ratifying the Labor Inspection Convention in 2005. However, regulation can’t come fast enough. In 2013, only 7 percent of international labor conventions had been passed in Asia, where the majority of injuries occur.
Decreased rates of workplace injury and fatal accidents over the last two decades are an encouraging sign that safety efforts are paying off in many developing nations. The number of people killed as a result of accidental occupational incidents in low-income countries dropped by 43 percent between 1996 and 2016. Experts note this decrease is lower than in high-income countries and that the five most hazardous industries still disproportionately burden these areas.
– Marissa Field