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close this bookLow-Cost Ways of Improving Working Conditions: 100 Examples from Asia (ILO, 1989, 190 p.)
close this folderINTRODUCTION
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSelection of examples
View the documentTypes of improvements
View the documentThe potential for action
View the documentContributions of case studies


It is sometimes argued that improvements in conditions of work and occupational safety and health are too costly for developing countries. Expenditures for social purposes are said to threaten the competitiveness, profitability and even the survival of enterprises which are depended upon to contribute to economic growth and create new jobs. It is contended that developing countries can only meet working conditions standards in special cases, and that general measures which require improvements are unwelcome and counterproductive interference with more important economic matters.

In response, it may be pointed out that the economic costs of occupational accidents and diseases are very high and moreover that sacrificing the worker in order to reduce the cost of production is an unacceptable principle in even the poorest societies. These arguments are quite valid, but unfortunately there are many circumstances in which they have not been sufficiently convincing. There is a tendency to see the costs of improvements as certain and substantial and the benefits as potential and peripheral.

The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that significant improvements can be made in conditions of work and occupational safety and health at very low cost. Many of the ideas which are described are appropriate for widespread application. It is hoped that these ideas will encourage a change in attitudes about the cost of improvements and that they will stimulate inventiveness in the search for better conditions.

Low cost does not mean technically unsound. The improvements which have been selected for this book are not proposed as alternatives to established standards, but as ways of meeting and going beyond those standards. This is especially important with regard to occupational safety and health hazards. It should be kept in mind that this book is a collection of examples, not an attempt to deal with occupational safety and health in a systematic way. Many very important subjects are not covered at all. Because these examples have been gathered from several countries with differing regulations, some of them may not be sufficient to meet the standards of every country. In such cases, it should be clear that the local requirements must be met.

There are several reasons for emphasising low-cost improvements. The low cost encourages employers to consider improvements favourably. Low-cost improvements tend to be simple and this simplicity provides opportunities for immediate action. In addition, the possibility of undertaking a series of simple actions, each of which has immediate and visible effects, encourages learning by doing and the development of a process of change rather than ad hoc responses to specific problems.