Emma Puka-Beals, Linn Jennings,

Anna Sillers, Shicong Li


Data and GDP bias in occupational health issues

In a report of the 17th world congress on safety and health at work, it is said that 4% of GDP is lost due to occupational death. Although many developing countries might not meet dramatically large loss of GDP due to occupational death, there are a lot of underlying issues in developing countries. This shows the limitation of GDP as a measurement as social welfare. Because in developing countries, there are a lot of independent agricultural work and informal work force. An article from Disease control priority project says that informal work force may contribute up to 60% of GDP. Because the labor force in developing countries is huge and cheap, many businesses don’t care about occupational health. Because when someone cannot work anymore, there is still cheap force to come in. This occupational health issue may not lead to death that can be completely counted into this expense (Takala 2005, DCPP 2007).

Comparison between developing countries and developed countries on occupational health issues


Nov 2009: Xinxing mine, Heilongjiang province - 108 dead
Dec 2007: Rui Zhiyuan mine, Shanxi province - 105 dead
Aug 2007: Xintai City, Shandong province - 181 dead
Nov 2005: Dongfeng mine, Heilongjiang - 171 dead
Feb 2005: Sunjiawan mine, Liaoning province - 210 dead
Nov 2004: Chenjiashan mine, Shaanxi province - 166 dead

Sept 2000: Muchonggou mine, Guizhou province - 162 dead

May 1960: Laobaidong mine, Shanxi province - 684 dead

May 1972: Idaho – 91 dead

Nov 1926: Michigan – 51 dead

June 1917: Montana – 163 dead



Global mining and metal industry had 60 billion US dollars in trading volume while China accounted for 27% of the gross.On Mar. 28, The Wangjiagang mine in Shanxi province flooded caused by miners breaking the wall into an abandoned shaft. Most accidents in China were caused by failures to follow safety rules. Government now is making efforts to enforce regulations and a lot of unregulated mines were closed. As you can see in the graphs above, the deaths involved in mining EACH year from 2000 in China are larger than those IN FIVE YEAR PERIODS from 1936 in the U.S.. The worst mining disaster in China had four times as many deaths as in the U.S.


  Why is that?  
  Work place difference and lack of resources    


80% of the labor force in least developed countries is involved in primary production such as agriculture, mining. This work often needs hard physical work. The environment for working might be in extreme temperature and exposed to toxins like pesticide poisoning or organic dusts. These often lead to different kind of occupational health problems (WHO, 1997).

Many developing countries have technologies, but those technologies are often less advanced and may lead to some health problems which are thus not favored by developed countries (WHO, 1997).

In many cases, people from developing countries lack information about occupational health issues, especially for people whose work requires high physical demand (DCPP 2007). Many people have to work for physically demanding jobs because they are not well educated to do technical work. This kind of working class suffers most in the occupational health issue and keeps a downward cycle. The more they are uneducated, the more they will be exposed to occupational hazards. The health care resources are also limited in developing countries. The whole topic can be closely related to environmental justice. What kind of sustainable community should we provide for lower-class people to avoid their vulnerability towards occupational health problems? We need a community that people can get they put efforts into instead of exploiting cheap labor.

This also means we need more interventions to help with this problem. Three studies of U.S. Internal Revenue Service data-entry clerks suggested that several regular five to 15 minutes breaks during work hours will significantly reduce ‘eye strain, fatigue, and musculoskeletal discomfort’ for facing towards screen for too long a time (DCPP 2007). And what’s greater about the result is that this kind of break will not decrease productivity at all.



  What we can do? Solutions proposed by European Union  

European Union is encouraging the government to improve occupational health by pointing out the benefits brought by that. It suggests that improving occupational health can increase productivity in several ways. First, it can delay people’s retirement time, which is often shortened because of poor health conditions and injuries. It also decreases cost for healthcare and people work better and more efficient in a healthy environment. The document also conveys extensive benefits of improving occupational health such as the process can reduce wastage and time for production. It may also increase the quality of the products. In the course of improving working environment, more discoveries can be made in order to change old systems and get rid of old equipments and technologies (Gervais, R.L., et al., 2009).


The pattern is that wherever competitiveness is higher, the deaths rates tend to be lower. On the lift side, where a lot of developed countries are at, those countries have high competitiveness but very low deaths rates; however on the less developed countries, the pattern is not so clear, but most of them have a high fatal accidents rate.

EU also proposes attractive incentives for enterprises in terms of improving occupational health. It is good for enterprises to show off their awareness toward human health problems and represent for their responsibility. The customers will be more willing to buy the products if the working process of it safe. In this way, enterprises can also reduce insurance cost for their workers, gain trust from their workers to build a more efficient team and reduce sickness absence, etc (Gervais, R.L., et al., 2009).

More specific solutions are raised by EU also. A very feasible way is judging the performance of enterprises by awards and publicity. They intend to encourage public reports about this issue and link it to insurance rates. These actions can alter the cost-benefit analysis for the enterprises and lead to significant results. They also look forward to specific criteria and further encourage investment interest on this issue to get more financial support.

You can examine more details here.




Disease Control Priorities Project (DCPP). 2007. Developing countries can reduce occupational hazards.

Gervais, R.L., Z. Pawlowska, R. Bojanowski, A. Kouvonen, M. Karanika-Murray, K. Van den Broek, M. De Greef. “Occupational safety and health and economic performance in small and medium-sized enterprises: a review.” European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2009).

Takala J. 2oo5. Introductory report: decent work - safe work. International Labor Organization.

WHO. 1997. <http://www.who.int/peh/Occupational_health/occupational_health2.htm>