Introduction The world of work is changing, and the size of the informal economy increasing. Occupational health and safety (OHS) was designed for formal workers in formal firms and workplaces, with legislation governing norms and standards. In contrast, in the informal economy there are diverse and atypical places of work (for example street vendors in public places, industrial outworkers in their own homes or in small informal factories), status in employment (self-employed versus wage workers). These and other differences present profound challenges to the formal profession and practice of OHS. A five year, seven country study sought to understand the growing gap between what OHS conventionally provides, and what informal workers need or find useful for the improvement of their working conditions and well-being.
Methods WIEGO and its affiliates in Brazil, Ghana, India, Peru, South Africa, Tanzania, and Thailand focused on two occupational sectors in each country, selected from street vendors, headload porters, domestic workers, waste pickers, and home-based workers. Country situation analyses of the informal economy, and the provision of OHS, were followed by extensive engagement in participatory research with informal workers. Bridging platforms were used where specific OHS issues could be discussed by informal workers and authorities together.
Discussion We worked in collaboration with contacts inside and outside of government departments, member-based organisations, NGOs, trade unions and others. In-country researchers and organisations explored inter alia the reform of local market regulations to control the weights carried by men porters, the installation of first aid stands in built markets, improved access for women head porters to a national health insurance scheme, child care provision, skill upgrading for better incomes, and the development of improved work equipment. The paper concludes with a consideration of what role an influential organisation such as ICOH could play in promoting an OHS that could include categories of informal employment.
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