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Industry-specific Risk Factors
Safety and health risks exist in all industries and sectors. Every worker has the right to health, and hazards to health exist for all people in everyday life, including in the workplace. Industries that may not seem particularly hazardous — for instance office work — can still present OSH risks, such as trips and falls over office equipment, back pain from sitting at a computer or fire safety in buildings. The ILO has a helpful encyclopaedia on OSH, available here.
The following industries present particularly high levels of risk. To identify potential OSH risks for other industries, companies can access the CSR Risk Check.
According to the ILO, agriculture with over 1.3billion workers worldwide is one of the three most dangerous industries (alongside construction and mining). Safety and health risks are higher for informal/undocumented workers than for formally employed workers, as they are less likely to have safety and health protections in place.
Agriculture-specific risk factors include the following:
- Many agricultural jobs require physical and manual labour, often outdoors. This presents immediate physical risks to the safety and health of workers, as without proper training or protection workers could become ill from exposure to the elements, exhaustion or repetitive physical movement or overexertion.
- Agricultural jobs often involve chemicals which can be harmful to workers, especially if protective equipment is not provided. Fertilizers and pesticides can cause respiratory diseases, and some can be fatally poisonous if ingested.
- Women are particularly at risk from working with chemicals and pesticides, as many of these chemicals can affect fertility or have harmful impacts on foetuses in pregnant women. Female agricultural workers are also vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence.
- Many roles in the agriculture industry require machinery or equipment, such as chainsaws in forestry, machetes in manual sugar cane harvesting or tractors in pastoral farming. These machines can cause accidents and injuries without proper selection of safe equipment, training, maintenance and protective equipment.
- Agricultural work is often seasonal, and many workers will be paid based on their output as opposed to a set wage. This can cause workers to undertake long hours and overexert themselves (for instance carrying heavy weights) to achieve the best payments. This can not only cause physical risks to safety and health but also mental ill-health through stress and exhaustion.
- Seasonal and migrant work can also exacerbate the risks of communicable diseases spreading, as workers can live and work in close contact. Reports show that temporary migrant worker accommodation has been a ‘hot spot’ for COVID-19 transmission during the global pandemic. This can also apply to other communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
- A lot of agricultural work is done in remote locations where safety and health protections may be hard to implement. Some businesses may also take advantage of the remote locations and not provide proper safety and health protections, as labour inspectors are unlikely to check remote sites.
- Children under the age of employment may be engaged in agricultural undertakings, where they may be involved in hazardous occupations. According to the latest ILO estimates, the prevalence of child labour in rural areas is about three times higher than in urban settings. For many young children, agriculture often serves as an entry point to the labour market.
- ILO, Occupational Safety and Health in Agriculture, on Plantations, and in Other Rural Sectors: A compilation of resources by the ILO on OSH in agriculture.
- OECD-FAO, Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains: This guidance provides a common framework and globally applicable benchmark to help agri-businesses address negative impacts, such as OSH accidents and incidents. The guidance is relevant for enterprises across the entire agricultural supply chain, from the farm to the consumer.
- ILO, Safety and Health in Agriculture: This code of practice provides guidance on how to implement safety and health practices in the agriculture industry and supply chains, including emergency preparedness and protective equipment.
- ILO, Practical Guide for the Prevention and Mitigation of COVID-19 in Agriculture: This document gives guidance on how to protect workers from COVID-19 in agricultural settings.
- ILO, Food and Agriculture Global Value Chains: Drivers and Constraints for Occupational Safety and Health Improvement: Comprehensive guidance on OSH issues for agricultural value chains in two volumes (Volume 1, Volume 2 and Executive Summary).
- ILO, Ergonomic Checkpoints in Agriculture: Practical and Easy-to-Implement Solutions for Improving Safety, Health and Working Conditions: Tangible and practical steps for OSH improvement in agricultural workplaces.
The construction industry poses many risks to workers’ safety and health, and is another of the top three most hazardous industries according to the ILO. Even in countries where safety and health regulations are well enforced and adequate approaches are taken by companies, accidents can still happen. In countries where there is a lower commitment of companies and weak enforcement of safety and health rules, construction environments can be deadly. Since construction is an activity that is directly or indirectly relevant to all sectors, it is important for businesses to consider construction-related safety and health risk exposures across their value chain.
Construction industry specific risk factors include the following:
- Working at height, in trenches or with heavy machinery can be dangerous, particularly if risks were not adequately assessed, if engineering and administrative controls are not in place, if personal protective equipment is not provided free of charge to workers, if activities of different subcontractors are not coordinated, and if inadequate training has been given to workers on how to do their jobs safely.
- Many of the materials used in construction can also be dangerous, such as heavy stones or steel, and can cause injury or death if these fall or trap workers.
- In countries where employers do not ensure construction sites under their control are safe and healthy, as reasonably as possible, and where safety and health regulations are not well enforced, many construction workers can find themselves exposed to uncontrolled risks, or without PPE or other safety equipment, leaving them vulnerable to injuries and accidents. Inadequate living conditions for workers of major construction projects, many of whom are migrant workers, increase the risk of transmission of communicable diseases such as COVID-19.
- ILO, Occupational Safety and Health in the Construction Sector: A compilation of resources from the ILO on OSH conventions, programmes and guidance for the construction sector.
- ILO, Good Practices and Challenges in Promoting Decent Work in Construction and Infrastructure Projects: This paper provides key information on issues impacting the construction industry, including occupational safety and health, and examples of good practices.
- ILO, The Health of Workers in Selected Sectors of the Urban Economy: Challenges and Perspectives: This paper is aimed at analyzing and systematizing the health challenges faced by the poorest strata of urban workers in the following sectors: construction, waste picking and recycling, street trading, domestic work and agriculture.
- ILO, Safety and Health in the Construction Sector: Overcoming the Challenges: A webinar with ILO experts dealing with occupational safety and health and the construction sector to discuss the challenges of protecting workers. The webinar aims to provide practical guidance to enterprises wishing to make safety and health an integral part of their business model. The webinar recording is available here.
- ILO, The Role of Worker Representation and Consultation in Managing Health and Safety in the Construction Industry: This paper contributes to the discussion on the importance of workers’ participation and representation for the improvement of safety and health conditions in construction, firstly by presenting a set of definitions, followed by evidence of the effectiveness of worker representation and consultation in safety and health generally and in the construction sector in particular.
- Building Responsibly, Worker Welfare Principles: These Principles were developed to serve as the global standard on worker welfare for the engineering and construction industry. Principle 5 provides guidance on key challenges for OSH and components for consideration to improve safety standards.
The mining industry is the third most dangerous industry for workers according to the ILO. Mining poses a range of OSH risks to workers, as well as to communities surrounding mining and refining sites. Immediate physical dangers to workers in mines are compounded by long-term disease and sickness that can develop due to mining conditions over time. Small scale mining is often informal, and conditions are “far from conforming with international and national labour standards”, according to the ILO. It is estimated that small scale mining accident rates are six to seven times higher than large scale mining operations, even in developed countries. There have been many notable mining disasters in developed and developing countries over the last 20 years, including the Brumadinho dam collapse (Brazil), the Sago mine explosion (USA) and the Ulyanovskaya mine explosion (Russia), in addition to regularly reported smaller incidents of deaths in mines.
Mining-specific risk factors include the following:
- Working underground in confined spaces, which are often dark and have limited ways of evacuating or escaping, is inherently dangerous. Moving and working in extremely low spaces poses a risk to the workers’ body posture and can lead to physical pain and shorter life spans. The risk is compounded by the likelihood of gases and chemicals being found underground that can ignite causing explosions and fires.
- Working with heavy machinery, including industrial diggers and trucks, large drills, rock crushers and even explosives can lead to risks of being caught in or crushed by machinery. The vibration from machinery can result in musculoskeletal disorders and even paralysis if the vibration or ‘shock’ is significant enough. Where safety and health is not planned, safe equipment is not selected or properly maintained, operations are not coordinated, and workers are not properly trained or not provided adequate PPE, the risk of accidents or even death grows exponentially.
- Dust and particles released from mining can cause long-term respiratory diseases if they are inhaled by workers. Common respiratory diseases from mining include bronchitis, silicosis and pneumoconiosis.
- Exposure to loud noises, such as mining machinery, falling rocks and explosions, can result in hearing disorders for workers, including hearing impairment, hearing loss and conditions like tinnitus.
- Effluents and waste from mining is often stored in pond-like structures called tailings. These can become poisonous and toxic, can poison nearby soil or waterways through a process called ‘seepage’, and can in some cases become flammable, presenting a fire risk. Tailings can ‘leak’, causing the effluent to escape leading to damage to nearby land and communities, sometimes to catastrophic effect, such as in the Vale dam collapse.
- Mining activities are often located in or near to places where communicable diseases — such as tuberculosis and malaria — are prevalent. In addition, as mining is still a male dominated industry and particularly when mines are in impoverished areas, workers paying for sex is common. This can lead to a risk of HIV/AIDS in workers, and the surrounding communities.
- ILO, Occupational Safety and Health in the Mining Sector: A compilation of resources from the ILO on OSH conventions, programmes and guidance for the mining sector.
- ILO, Code of Practice on Safety and Health in Opencast Mines: ILO code includes guidance on risk assessment and management, as well as setting up OSH management systems and emergency response in opencast mines. The code also comprises descriptions of specific hazards and describes respective control measures.
- ILO, Safety and Health in Underground Coal Mines: ILO code provides a methodology for identifying hazards and addressing OSH risks in underground mines, ranging from dust, explosions, fires and water inflows to electrical hazards, machinery and hazards on the surface.
- ILO, HIV and AIDS: Guidelines for the Mining Sector: A collection of specific guidance on HIV and AIDS from the ILO that aims to support companies in the mining sector in strengthening their response to HIV and AIDS.
- ILO, COVID-19 and Mining: Prevention and Control Checklist: Practical tool to assist mining companies to implement and continuously improve practical actions to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
- ICMM, Good Practice Guidance on Occupational Health Risk Assessment: In-depth guidance and steps on conducting an OSH risk assessment in mining and metals processing.
- ICMM, Community Health Programs in the Mining and Metals Industry: Analysis of community health initiatives undertaken by ICMM member companies and an overview of key lessons learned.
- ICMM, Leadership Matters: The Elimination of Fatalities: A guide for senior leaders to prevent fatalities in the mining sector through their personal actions and the processes and activities they should ensure are in place.
- ICMM, Leadership Matters: Managing Fatal Risk Guidance: This guidance provides a tool for senior managers to help reduce fatalities in the mining sector and includes a series of self-diagnostic prompts to assist in identifying gaps in safety management systems.
- ICMM, Health and Safety Performance Indicators: A detailed report on OSH performance indicators (i.e. injury and disease recording) for mining companies.
Oil and Gas
The oil and gas industry can be dangerous for workers. Both onshore and offshore work requires a high level of skill and strict safety and health measures to keep workers safe. Extensive research has been done on the dangers of working with oil, gas and related substances, both in day-to-day work activities and the long-term health implications of exposure to substances.
Oil and gas-specific risk factors include the following:
- The construction, maintenance and installation of oil and gas extraction sites (for instance oil rigs at sea) is dangerous due to the machinery used, and the hazards that working at sea can cause. Once constructed, there are significant risks to workers such as falling from heights, drowning and hypothermia.
- Oil and gas products are usually highly flammable, which makes the risk of explosions and fires high. This can destroy facilities, cause burns, respiratory problems or even death, and can have devastating effects on the local environment and communities.
- Mental illness is also a risk for those working in the oil and gas industry, as a lot of workers are required to work away from home for long periods of time and in high pressure roles. Depression, anxiety and stress-related illnesses can be common in these environments.
- ILO, Occupational Safety and Health in the Oil and Gas Production and Refining Sector: A compilation of OSH resources by the ILO for oil and gas companies.
- International Association of Oil & Gas Producers: The association has a range of guidance and tools for oil and gas companies, including how to implement safety and health practices for offshore work, transportation of dangerous chemicals and geophysical operations.
- IPIECA: The industry-wide sustainability membership body has a range of resources and tools on safety and health approaches, risk assessments and OSH specialist working groups.
Fashion and Apparel
The fashion and apparel industry has a range of safety and health issues for businesses to consider. As well as direct risks to workers in their day-to-day activities — such as using sewing machinery or chemical dyes — industry-wide issues with the safety of textile factories and excessive working hours have been identified in the manufacturing stages in developing countries. The risks found in the agricultural sector apply to workers sourcing raw materials (such as rearing cattle for leather or picking cotton) in the fashion and apparel industry. Women represent an average of 68% of the garment workforce and 45% of the textile sector workforce, which means that OSH issues and incidents in this sector affect mostly women.
Fashion and apparel specific risk factors include the following:
- This industry features a lot of subcontracting and outsourcing, making tracing where a product was made and under what conditions difficult. A lot of garment workers are also employed, formally and informally, in homeworking with limited OSH protections and PPE, which makes preventing and recording OSH issues difficult.
- Certain activities specific to this industry can be dangerous to health, such as the process of sandblasted denim and using certain dyes to change the colour of textiles. Some brands, such as ASOS, now prohibit or are phasing out these activities due to their dangerous nature.
- The increasingly low cost of fashion and apparel items means that factories and manufacturers in the supply chain must reduce their own costs to make profit. This can include cutting corners with safety and health, such as working in unsafe buildings or failing to provide PPE for workers. The Rana Plaza disaster of 2013 is an example of unsafe working conditions leading to the deaths of 1,132 people.
- ILO, Occupational Safety and Health in the Textiles, Clothing, Leather and Footwear Sector: A compilation of resources from the ILO on OSH conventions, programmes and guidance for the textile and apparel sector.
- OECD, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment & Footwear Sector: This guidance aims to help fashion and apparel businesses implement the due diligence recommendations contained in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises in order to avoid and address the potential negative impacts of their activities and supply chains on a range of human rights, including safety and health.
- BetterWork, COVID-19: BetterWork has developed a regularly updated webpage that monitors the COVID-19 policy responses of garment manufacturing countries, providing information on how the situation affects the apparel industry and its workers.
- ILO, Monitor: COVID-19 and The World of Work: These regularly issued briefing notes provide updated estimates and analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on the global labour market, including the apparel industry.
- Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: COVID-19 Apparel Action Tracker: This online resource monitors garment industry responses, Government actions and workers’ demands during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- SOMO, Fatal Fashion: Analysis of Recent Factory Fires in Pakistan and Bangladesh: A Call to Protect and Respect Garment Workers’ Lives: This report describes two factory fires ravaging the facilities of clothing manufacturers in Pakistan and Bangladesh in September 2012 and leading to hundreds of workers being killed and injured. The report demonstrates the urgent need for immediate and structural changes in the practices of Government and business actors in the global garment industry.
- Fair Wear, Covid-19: Occupational Health and Safety Guidance: This discussion sheet gives targeted guidance on how to keep workers safe in the COVID-19 pandemic, what measures to consider and what to look out for in the conversation between brands and their suppliers. The discussion sheet can be used in combination with COVID-19 specific health and safety checklist.
- Clean Clothes Campaign: Provides a tracker on key safety and health related events in the garment industry.
- Fair Labor Association (FLA): A compilation of resources on health, safety and environment in multiple industries, including in fashion and apparel.