The influence of work arrangements on occupational health and safety: a study of Australian and United Kingdom horticulture

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Copyright: Bamford, Annabelle
There is a rich literature on the role that precarious work situations (including subcontracting and temporary labour) play in health disparities, but research on occupational health outcomes and work arrangements in horticulture is limited, and few studies in the wider literature have explored whether these arrangements affect hazardous substance exposures. This study assists in filling this gap by describing how work arrangements, particularly subcontracting and temporary employment, are associated with factors related to pesticide exposure and to worker perceptions of pesticide exposure in two countries with similar regulatory regimes: Australia and the United Kingdom. Data are drawn from 67 semi-structured interviews with horticultural fieldworkers, employers, labour providers, and industry, union and government representatives. The regulatory frameworks were compared and real or perceived impacts of regulations on occupational health and safety (OHS) outcomes were examined. The research design allowed the reporting of perceived exposure and potential sources of pesticide exposure. A number of conclusions are drawn. Subcontracting and temporary work arrangements appeared to affect OHS, including pesticide exposures. Factors explaining this include economic pressures, worker mobility and the fracturing of tasks into separate contractual units that contributed to hazardous forms of work disorganisation, and regulatory failure. Financial pressure was accentuated by the subletting of work under a subcontracting system; employment and income insecurity as well as intense competition for work contributed to a range of hazardous practices amongst labour subcontractors, including accepting hazardous tasks. The critical factor seemed to be that the work was temporary and itinerant. Workers did not appear to consider long term health but rather immediate safety issues, and because the work was itinerant it would have been difficult to track the outcomes of any exposures if this was considered desirable. Reactive and infrequent government inspection further complicates the tasks of identifying, monitoring and addressing the insidious health risks associated with pesticide exposure. This research focussed on work organisation rather than ethnicity and the findings tend to suggest that it is not just the vulnerability of foreign-workers, which exacerbated problems but is also a part of the way work is being organised. Indeed, the use of foreign workers can itself be seen as a conscious form of work organisation. The precariousness arising from work organisation seemed to be the most fundamental problem, especially in such a highly competitive industry. Despite differences in the regulatory frameworks and temporary labour migration mechanisms, the cross-national findings were very similar.
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Bamford, Annabelle
Quinlan, Michael
Hampson, Ian
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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