|Health and Environment in Sustainable Development - Five Years after the Earth Summit (WHO, 1997, 258 pages)|
|Chapter 4: Poor environmental quality, exposures and risks|
|4.8 The workplace|
In some of the least developed countries, up to 80% of the workforce is employed in agriculture, mining and other types of primary production (see Section 2.7.2). Heavy physical work, often combined with heat stress, occupational accidents, pesticide poisonings, organic dusts and biological hazards are thus the main causes of occupational morbidity and mortality in these countries (WHO, 1995i). Additionally, numerous non-occupational factors such as parasitic and infectious diseases, poor hygiene and sanitation, poor nutrition, general poverty and illiteracy aggravate these occupational health effects.
The informal sector and small-scale industries (SSIs), in particular, are subject to numerous workplace hazards. Many migrants find work in the informal sector and SSIs since these offer easy entry for newcomers, and often do not require formal trade skills, or large amounts of capital or machinery. Estimates suggest that over 1000 million people worldwide are employed by small-scale industries (Rantanen, Lehtinen & Mikheev, 1994). In some countries, such as Thailand, SSIs may account for the majority of registered industries. However, SSIs are not subject to occupational health-and-safety provisions. Even in the advanced economy of the USA, 90% of all work sites, covering 40% of the country's total workforce of 110 million, are not inspected regularly and/or do not have access to occupational health services. Many of those working in SSIs therefore suffer adverse health impacts due to exposure to dusts, heat stress, toxic substances, noise, vibration and poor hygiene.
In rapidly-industrializing countries occupational health problems often arise due to use of technologies that are less advanced and more hazardous than those favoured by developed countries. Moreover, managing all aspects of production - for example, health and safety at work and the health of the work environment, as well as the external environment - can be difficult when technical and financial resources are limited, as is often the case (WHO, 1995i). In such circumstances, occupational accidents, traditional physical and ergonomic hazards, and occupational injuries and diseases become major problems. Their true extent is unknown, however, since many occupational injuries and diseases are neither notified nor registered.
Evidently, the panorama of workplace hazards varies in accordance with the stage of economic development that has been reached and approaches to health protection should take this into account. The basic principles of occupational health remain the same, however, and are laid out in the Declaration on Occupational Health for All (WHO, 1994b).