Agricultural Sector in Developing Countries Not Adequately Covered in OSH Laws
Existing OSH laws are gender insensitive, fragmented among various government departments, insufficient, outdated, and lack incentives for compliance.
A recent study on the status of and the Future of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) legislation in low- and middle-income countries found that although the agricultural sector employs more than 70% of the population, most of the reviewed countries lack OSH legislation on the sector. Existing OSH laws were also found to be gender insensitive, fragmented among various government departments, insufficient, outdated, and non-deterrent to perpetrators and lack incentives for compliance.
The study published in the December 2018 issue of Safety and Health at Work involved a review of OSH laws in 10 countries namely Botswana, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The laws were subjected to uniform review criteria which constituted elements of legislative content such as scope, occupational health surveillance, worker compensation, gender sensitivity, and administrative nature, for example, structure, fragmentation, enforcement, contradictions, operationalization, and continuous improvement.
Depressingly, despite employing a huge workforce and experiencing such high injury frequency rates, very few Acts addressing OSH concerns of agricultural workers, and the few concerned Acts narrowly considered mainly chemical hazards with little or no reference to other hazards, such as, dust, vibrations, and noise from, for instance, powered farming equipment such as tractors, mowers, and chain and hand saws and mowers.
The study also noted that only 5-10% of workers in developing countries have access to adequate OSH services compared to 20-50% of workers in developed countries. In some countries such as Tanzania, the study found that less than 5% of the workforce has access to OSH services.
The heavy emphasis on fines and penalties and lack of specified incentives to those who comply was noted in most of the OSH laws reviewed. The fines varied from country to country but are mainly of relatively small value. It was also observed that the OSH laws are not self-sustaining since fines collected from those who break the laws are combined with other state funds without any specific requirement that exists for their use in OSH issues.
The study recommends reform in the legal frameworks and harmonization of OSH laws for the collective benefit to employees, employers, and regulatory authorities as well as new OSH legislation for the agricultural sector.