A Safe and Healthy Generation

Every year on the 28 April, the International Labour Organization (ILO) organise the World Day for Safety and Health at Work (SafeDay) campaign to raise awareness of safety and health issues at work. The purpose is to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally through bringing a focus of the international attention on emerging trends in the field of occupational safety and health and on the magnitude of work-related injuries, diseases and fatalities worldwide. For this year the SafeDay and World Day Against Child Labour campaigns are organised together with the aim to improve the safety and health of young workers and end child labour.

There were 541 million young workers (15-24 years old) globally, which includes 37 million children in hazardous child labour. The young workers account for more than 15 percent of the global labour force. However, they suffer up to a 40 percent higher rate of non-fatal work-related injuries than adult workers older than 25. In Malaysia, there were 2.34 million youth workers (15-24 years old) in 2016, which constitutes 16.5 percent of the total workforce of 14.16 million. Most of the youth workers work in the service and sales sectors (31.9%), followed with the elementary occupations (18.1%) and plant and machine operators and assemblers (13.0%). When considering only Malaysian citizens, youth workers constitute 14.5% of the total Malaysian citizen workforce of 11.95 million.

The latest figure from the ILO (2017) estimates that 2.78 million workers die every year from work-related injuries and diseases. Out of this, 380 thousand were fatal occupational accidents and 2.4 million fatal work-related diseases. Furthermore, there are around 374 million non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses each year. This accounts for nearly four percent of the world’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) lost as a result of work-related injuries.

With regards to death among young workers (15-24 years), globally it was estimated that there was 4.53 death per 100,000 youth workers due to occupational risk. The estimate for Malaysia was 2.93 death per 100,000 youth workers due to occupational risk which is lower than the global estimate and also the estimates for South East Asia (7.07), Thailand (6.00) and Indonesia (4.52), except for Singapore (1.70). The same scenario was also seen when we look at the non-fatal injuries due to occupational risk, i.e., the rate of Disability Adjusted Life-Years (DALYs) loss per 100,000 youth workers. The Malaysian estimated rate of 317.51 DALYs loss was lower when compared to the global estimated rate of 502.63 DALYs loss, South East Asia (709.65), Thailand (643.90) and Indonesia (1131.81), except for Singapore (284.50). Both the rate of death and DALYs in Malaysia have seen a decrease from the 2006 estimates of 3.36 and 351.31 respectively.

One DALY can be thought of as one lost year of “healthy” life. The sum of these DALYs across the population, or the burden of disease, can be thought of as a measurement of the gap between current health status and an ideal health situation where the entire population lives to an advanced age, free of disease and disability (World Health Organization).

There are many factors that lead to the lower rate of death and DALYs and also the decreasing rates. Among them includes the low labour participation rate among the youth (42.9%), mostly due to continuation in education, the shift of employment from agricultural to service and sales sectors, the restriction of youth workers employed in hazardous sectors, and the improvement in safety and health in Malaysia. In Malaysia, the Children and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996, stipulates that young people under age 16 years cannot be employed under conditions which are hazardous to their health. The age of young people was increased from 16 to 18 years in the 2010 amendment to the 1996 Act. The Factory and Machinery Act 1967 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 also have provisions for youth.

The SafeDay campaign of the ILO aims for safe and secure working environments for all workers and ending all forms of child labour based on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets 8.8 and 8.7. To achieve these, a concerted and integrated approach to eliminating child labour and promoting a culture of prevention on occupational safety health (OSH) should be promoted for the benefit of the next generation of the global workforce. The reason for the focus on youth, as many factors increase the youth vulnerability to occupational safety and health (OSH) risks. Among them are their physical and psychological stage of development, lack of work experience and lack of training, limited awareness of work-related hazards and a lack of bargaining power that can lead young workers to accept dangerous tasks or jobs with poor working conditions. Youth also have a different risk perception and risk-taking behaviour which lead them to engage in more risk-taking activities, and this will also affect the OSH risks.

Although the situation in Malaysia is good, we still need to improve it further to reduce the fatal and non-fatal injuries among the youth and also focus on promoting a culture of prevention on occupational safety health. However, improvement in the OSH among youth cannot just be focused on issues at the workplace, but at the overall risk that youth are engaged, e.g., substance abuse, dangerous driving, and risky sexual behaviour. This is particularly important with regards to commuting accidents, in the Social Security Organisation reports, the number of commuting accidents has increased from 17 thousand in 2016 to 31 thousand in 2016, although during the same period the number of industrial accidents has decreased from 40 thousand to 35 thousand.

Researchers in the universities, Ministry of Health and non-governmental organisations, are working together in engaging the youth to promote a safer and more productive future for them. Among them are the Malaysian Care for Adolescent Project, Malaysian Clearinghouse Centre for Adolescent Health, HIPSTAR (Hidup Sihat Tanpa Rokok) workshop, No-Cotine Club as well as the Smoking Cessation Organising, Planning and Execution Training (SCOPE) programme.

The 2018 SafeDay campaign highlights the critical importance of addressing these challenges and improving safety and health for young workers, not only to promote decent youth employment but also to link these efforts to combat hazardous and all other forms of child labour.

This article was written by Dr Victor Hoe, Professor of Occupational and Public Health, and was first published on the BeritaMMA April issue.