Objective To describe the initial results of the first Central American Survey of Working Conditions and Health, completed in 2011.
Methods A cross-sectional survey of a representative national sample of 12,024 workers (2004 per country) was performed in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, by completing an interviewer-administered questionnaire in the homes of the participants. Questionnaire items addressed worker demographics, employment conditions, occupational risk factors and self-perceived health.
Results Among the most salient results, women worked mainly in the tertiary sector (78%), while men were distributed between the tertiary (44%) and primary sectors (37%). Over 70% of both women and men were not insured by their country’s social security system. Among salaried workers, 24% of women and 20% of men had a written contract, approximately 13% of both had an oral contract and 3% had no contract. About 67% of workers reported having very good or good health status, but at the same time 40% of women and 35% of men self-reported poor mental health. Around 3% of women and 5% of men had sustained an occupational injury in the previous 12 months.
Conclusions In Central America there is a dearth of information on working conditions and health; the available information is generally considered unreliable, of poor quality and scant distribution, especially for the informal sector. The establishment of reliable information systems is a priority for several global health and development programs. Although more detailed analyses are underway, this survey already represents significant progress towards the development of a simple, representative and reproducible regional information system in occupational health and safety that could better inform national and regional planning and assessment, and the creation of public policies directed at preventing occupational risks and promoting the health of both formal and informal workers.
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