International Regulation

Internationally many different systems address agriculture safety and health. Usually, general labor laws or labor codes give no specific reference to or may not fully apply to the agricultural sector. Agriculture is given only limited attention in the occupational safety and health regulation of many countries. In other countries, such as Brazil, Kenya, and Mexico, general labor laws apply to agriculture along with other industries. In certain countries, no safety and health laws apply to the agricultural sector at all. The general labor laws of a number of countries, such as Ghana, Jordan, Morocco, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Turkey, Yemen, and Zaire, exclude agricultural workers completely or partially (1). The WHO and ILO work together to encourage national safety and health strategies and have developed many conventions and recommendations that relate to agriculture. Adoption of ILO conventions is voluntary on the part of member nations. Table 4.1 lists selected ILO conventions that apply to agriculture.

Effective regulation of agriculture health hazards is difficult for a variety of reasons including the lack of a mutually accepted definition of agriculture used by the international community, the unorganized nature of agriculture, the remote locations of work sites, and the lack of strong centralized occupational safety and health authorities. In many Third World countries, subsistence farming predominates. Communal farming with no direct employer-employee relationship is also common in many parts of the world. This along with a poor occupational health infrastructure lends itself to little or no regulatory enforcement (6).

The 1962 ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health developed a definition of agriculture that may be used to define a common population for coverage under occupational safety and health regulation and for reporting of occupational injury and illness incidents in agriculture:

"Agriculture" means all forms of activities connected with growing, harvesting, and primary processing of all types of crops, with the breeding, raising, and caring for animals, and with tending gardens and nurseries (7).

Even in industrialized countries such as the United States and South Korea, small family farms make up the vast majority of agriculture workplaces (6). Many of these farms do not employ full-time employees and may rely on temporary migrant workers during high-activity periods such as planting and harvesting. These farms are generally exempt from occupational safety and health regulation. Migrant workers tend to lack power due to cultural disparities, economic and political disadvantages, and lack of union representation. Following these workers and soliciting their participation in enforcing occupational safety and health regulation is a difficult challenge. Couple this with a lack of access to medical care, no federal requirements for the provision of medical surveillance for agriculture workers, and

Table 4.1. Selected International Labor Organization conventions that apply to agriculture.

Convention Overview

Minimum age C. 138 Establishes the minimum age of employment.

Exempts family and small-scale farms Working environment C. 148 Provides recommendations regarding air pollution, noise, and vibration exposure Labor inspection C.81 Requires member nations to maintain a system of labor inspection and enforcement Occupational cancer C. 139 Requires member nations to reduce worker exposure to carcinogenic substances Occupational health Services C. 181 Recommends that nations adopt national policy on occupational health services for all workers no requirements for documentation of workplace injuries and illnesses leaves the majority of agriculture workers unprotected by governmental regulation (1).

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