Survey of Occupational Health Hazards and Problems of Laborers (Completed 2008)

This study was conducted by the PHD Group for the National Health Education, Information and Communication Centre (NHEICC), MoHP. The Essential Health Care Services under occupational health intervention specifies chronic respiratory diseases, accidents, cancers, eye and skin diseases and hearing loss resulting from different occupations. It further mentions transport workers meeting with accidents, as well as getting infected with skin diseases. In some factories, workers are exposed to respiratory problems. Some get their eyes hurt. All these need to be taken care of in factories and work places. This study has attempted to identify many industry and occupational related health problems, which will be helpful for occupational health hazards intervention and program implementation plan.

The objective of the study was to assess the extent of health hazards that different types of workers/labourers at different working environment face due to their occupation. 

The study included both employers and employees. Information were gathered from the former about the provisions of work environment, safety measures and measures taken for taking care of health hazards of workers. On the other hand, workers were interviewed about their knowledge, attitude and behaviour about the hazards/bad effects on health due to their occupation. Also inquiries were made about awareness, knowledge, attitude and behaviour of workers on the prevention and protection measures of the problems resulting from their occupation.

A scientific approach was employed in selecting respondents for the study. The research methods, instruments and approaches were thoroughly discussed with NHEICC before finalization. In-depth and individual workers’ interviews and focus group discussions were used for the collection of data. The tools of data collection were questionnaire, FGD guideline and in-depth interview schedule.

Study locations were construction site, garment, brick, jute, chemical/soap and rubber factories, hospital and Municipality from Kathmandu valley and Morang district. In order to get the view points of employers on corporate responsibility employers or owners or key informants were interviewed. Also key informants from concerned government institutions were interviewed. In all, 8 key informant interviews were conducted.

The workers interviewed did some 27 different types of manual work in different industries/establishments but as this was a purposive sample of workers, the distribution of types of workers is not necessarily representative. Only about 10 percent of workers were not aware of health hazards of their occupation. The health hazards mentioned were joint pains, backache, stomach ache, stomach burns, followed by chest pain, throat pain, asthma, death from falling, gastric, TB, common cold and cough, fever, burning nose, pain in ears, weakness, headache, dizziness, injuries, peeling of skin of hand and feet, sores in hand and skin, getting a cold, tonsillitis and so on. The health hazards mentioned by labourers of eight different types of establishments did not vary a great deal. Injuries were particularly mentioned by construction site and chemical industry workers.

Most workers (80 percent) were aware of the measures or protection methods from the health hazards of their occupation. The measures mentioned were use of mask, working at good pace, use of gloves, washing of hands with soap, avoiding alcohol, avoiding long hours, to be careful, taking food on time, avoiding working in the hot sun and avoiding strenuous work. The worker, however, demanded that that government should arrange for life insurance for their safety and security.

Over four in five workers mentioned facing health hazards in their occupation. Over half of all workers mentioned backache as a major problem faced by them and about one in three also said physical injuries. Other important health hazards they faced were aching of hands and feet, gastric, eye problem, cough, cold and fever, chest pain, asthma, stomach ache, body ache, head ache, skin disease, accident and irritating throat. Over half of all respondents who had experienced health problems due to their occupation visited health facility, got examined, and took medicines. But one in five of them did nothing.

Nearly half of all respondents (50.9 percent) said they listen to the Public Health Radio Programme of NHEICC and the highest proportion of factory workers in Morang (75 percent) listen to it followed by workers in Kathmandu valley (36.1 percent).

Radio was cited by nearly every respondent and 90 percent of them also mentioned the availability of TV locally. Other local media available were book/newspaper, hoarding board/wall painting, friend, poster/pamphlet/booklet, cinema hall, drama/street drama and health provider/facility. A few respondents also mentioned video, Rodighar (local custom of meeting point of young people), telephone, volunteers and group.

The findings of the study show that occupational health hazards is known to workers but the problems of health remain largely unaddressed. They need health insurance and information, education and communication programmes on health hazards of their occupation.