The characteristics of OSH in agriculture

Author:International Labour Organization
Meetings-MESHA-Final Code-2010-10-0355-1-En.doc/v2 5
2. The characteristics of OSH in agriculture
2.1. Employment and OSH
2.1.1. With more than a third of the worlds labour force employed in the sector,
agriculture is the second greatest source of employment worldwide after services. It is also
the most important sector for female employment in many countries, especially in Africa
and Asia, and a major proportion of agricultural workers are women.
2.1.2. Agriculture also involves a wide range of different types of machinery,
animals, plants and products, working in both indoor and outdoor environments under
widely varying geographic and climatic conditions. While agricultural enterprises in many
developed countries are highly mechanized and operate on a large scale, in many
developing countries labour-intensive farming is much more common.
2.1.3. Such wide-ranging profiles, both in terms of employment and of enterprise,
have a significant bearing on levels of risk awareness and on attitudes towards preventing
accidents and diseases within the sector. Agriculture is in fact one of the most hazardous of
all sectors and many agricultural workers suffer occupational accidents and ill-health each
year. The contributory causes of such accidents and ill-health are many, but often include:
working with machines, vehicles, tools and animals;
exposure to excessive noise and vibration;
slips, trips and falls from heights;
lifting heavy weights and other work giving rise to musculoskeletal disorders;
exposure to dust and other organic substances, chemicals, and infectious agents; and
other working conditions common to rural environments, such as exposure to extreme
temperatures, inclement weather and attacks by wild animals.
2.1.4. Child labour is also more prevalent in agriculture than in any other economic
sector, accounting for approximately 70 per cent of child labour worldwide. Moreover,
since many children below the age of employment live on farms, the risk of accidents and
diseases to them is significantly increased, including through exposure to pesticides and
other chemicals frequently used in agriculture. International efforts to eliminate child
labour in agriculture have continued for many years, but children below and above the
legal age of employment continue to suffer accidents on farms, some of them fatal.
2.1.5. There is also a high involvement of migrant workers and many workers are
employed on a casual, piecework or seasonal basis.
2.2. Addressing the challenges
2.2.1. The task of improving OSH in agriculture faces a number of difficulties.
Firstly, many agricultural workers are only poorly protected by national labour law, and
some countries specifically exclude the agricultural sector from their general labour
legislation and/or from OSH legislation. Secondly, in other countries some relevant
legislation does exist but it is poorly applied in practice and inadequately enforced by
labour inspectors. In particular, labour inspectorates are often inadequately resourced and

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