|Guide to Health and Hygiene in Agricultural Work (ILO, 1979, 328 p.)|
|6. Organisation of occupational health services and medical inspection of labour in agriculture|
The Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health has given the following broad definition of occupational health:
Occupational health should aim at: the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations; the prevention among workers of departures from health caused by their working conditions; the protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health; the placing and maintenance of the worker in an occupational environment adapted to his physiological and psychological equipment and, to summarise: the adaptation of work to man and of each man to his job.1
1 Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health: Second report. Technical report series, No. 66 (Geneva, World Health Organization, 1953), p. 4.
There are two main reasons why it is essential to organise occupational health services in agriculture: first, a large proportion (and, in many countries, the majority) of the working population consists of agricultural workers; and second, technical progress in agriculture throughout the world (development of mechanisation, increased use of chemicals, concentration of livestock) has considerably increased occupational risks.
However, the organisation of occupational health services in agriculture is influenced by a number of factors peculiar to the rural environment and to the particular nature of agricultural work:
(1) Unlike industrial workers, agricultural workers are usually dispersed in remote rural areas where public services generally may be insufficient. However, although this dispersal is characteristic of agriculture, its importance should not be exaggerated. Concentrations do exist in agriculture, the most striking examples being the large plantations of cotton, tea, fruit trees, and so on. Moreover, although the dispersal of workers makes it difficult to organise occupational health services, it is not an insurmountable obstacle, as the satisfactory situation in the building industry shows.
(2) A wide variety of jobs are performed by the agricultural worker, especially in small undertakings. Nevertheless, there is a similar variety in other industries and this has not hampered the organisation of occupational health services.
(3) For the most part, the work is done in the open air and consequently the worker is exposed to all weathers.
(4) In all countries, the agricultural environment suffers from a certain technical backwardness as compared with the industrial environment. Tradition in agriculture often hampers the application of modern techniques, of which occupational health services are only one example.
(5) Although new forms of work organisation have made considerable progress in agriculture, the fact that the performance of agricultural work is so dependent on weather conditions is a considerable obstacle to more efficient operation. Thus, while the speed of a production line in industry can be accurately planned, a sudden change in the weather-a rainstorm, for example-will compel the farmer either to work faster or to stop working altogether. Moreover, these changes in the weather can sometimes completely alter working conditions: for instance, plans for the application of pesticides in favourable conditions will be upset if a sudden wind springs up from the wrong quarter-the favourable conditions become both difficult and dangerous.
(6) The agricultural worker's private life and his working life are often interwoven. In certain kinds of undertaking it may be possible to separate the two; however, in most cases the existing situation seems likely to continue for many years to come. Furthermore, as agricultural work is carried on in the countryside, it is subject to the risks inherent in a rural environment, with the workers being dependent on the general standard of public health in such matters as the provision of an adequate water supply and protection against vermin and insects. These factors have a considerable bearing on the health problems of a particular area.
(7) Agricultural work is very often a family affair, and sometimes all the worker's family-children, women, old people-share in it to a greater or lesser extent. The absolute necessity to care for these people modifies the traditional form of occupational health services, which are generally intended for the workers alone.
These and other factors peculiar to agricultural work fully justify the organisation of agricultural health services. Their nature will, however, vary according to the country, the district, the local crops and the method of growing a particular crop. It is impossible to deal here with the needs of each special case, from the large undertaking to the small family farm, but an attempt will be made to establish the general principles which should be observed in order to improve the working and living conditions of the agricultural worker.