WORK-related deaths and injuries are commonplace the world over, more so in places where there is a lack in government capacity to inspect workplaces and ensure they are taking care of their workers – or when the country has a large informal sector. Many African countries have both these traits; a huge informal sector and a government which is only starting to get to grips with occupational healthy and safety regulations.
In sub-Saharan Africa countries, slightly more than 54,000 fatal occupational accidents happen every year and approximately 42 million work-related accidents took place that cause at least three days absence from work. The fatality rate of the region is 21 per 100,000 workers and the accident rate per 100,000 workers is 16,000.
In this research presented by Science Direct, the five countries that had the highest fatal incidents between 2001 - 2002 were; Nigeria (9,631), Ethiopia (5,596), Republic of Congo (4,148), Egypt (3,884), Tanzania (3,435) and Kenya (3,238).
These figures give a glimpse into the hazards faced by workers, unfortunately a lack of government and union oversight means that there is insufficient reliable information on occupational accidents to draw solid conclusions - particularly due to lack of proper recording and notification systems - but there are publicised issues and incidents that, with a bit of research, unveil the dangers posed by certain professions.
Thus, ironically, you are less likely to die as a peacekeeper in the Central African Republic (CAR), than in what on the face of it look like routine jobs in some countries on the continent:
According to South Africa’s farmers’ union, working on a South African farm is the country’s most dangerous occupation, with twice as many farm workers killed as police officers each year. And it’s not because of over-enthusiastic cows or dangerous machinery. Afriforum and the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) state that the number of farm murders was reported to have risen to 67 in 2014 from 62 the previous year.
There were 277 farm attacks in 2014, which the organisation believes is the highest figure since 1990. The 132.2 murders on farms per 100,000 people is more than double the murder rate for policeman at 54.4 per 100,000 people, the unions added, and 32.2 per 100,000 for the country’s population as a whole.
Boda-boda (motorcycle taxis) operators account for 41% of all trauma patients at the main referral hospital in Kampala, Uganda. The actual numbers will be incredibly high considering with about 80,000 boda-boda serving as the main form of transport in Kampala, there is estimated to be at least 800,000 unsafe trips taken daily.
Among the operators the helmet use rate is only 49% for the drivers and less than 1% of passengers, increasing the chances of fatalities. Though motorcycle helmets are mandatory by law for both drivers and passengers, enforcement is inconsistent and helmet use is low. In 2009, there were an estimated 292,263 motorcycles in Uganda, up 170% since 2005. A figure that is set to rise unless traffic issues are resolved and options for public transport improved.
The collection of household waste is a job which requires repeated heavy physical activities such as lifting, carrying, pulling, and pushing. In Ethiopia municipal solid waste is collected manually and a study assessing the extent of occupational injuries and associated factors among solid waste collectors in Addis Ababa City, shed some light on how incredibly risky the profession is.
Solid waste in Addis are exposed to human faecal matter, part of waste that may have contaminated with toxic materials (such as e-waste), bottles with chemical residues, metal containers with residue pesticides and solvents, sharps and other infectious wastes from hospitals, and batteries containing heavy metals - not to mention the exhaust fumes of the old trucks used to collect the refuse.
A shocking 43.7% of respondents reported having had some form of serious occupational injury.
Doctors and nurses
Another profession in Ethiopia that showed worryingly high trends for occupational hazards are those working in healthcare. Occupational exposure to blood and body fluids is a serious concern and presents a major risk for the transmission of infections such as HIV and hepatitis viruses - especially for doctors and nurses in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that accounts for the highest prevalence of HIV-infected patients in the world.
A study in Ethiopia found that the reported life time risk of at least one needle stick or sharps injury among healthcare workers was 30.5% and 25.7% respectively. The self-reported life time and one year risk of splashing of blood and body fluids was 28.8% and 20.2%.
Also 44.8% of workers reported that they were dissatisfied by the supply of infection prevention materials, while 70.9% of respondents thought their work place had put them at high risk of HIV.
The hazards faced by Africa’s healthcare workers was recently highlighted by the ebola outbreak in West Africa. As of April 26 there have been 865 cases among medical staff in the three affected west African countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea) and 504 deaths.
In Nigeria, there is no comprehensively reliable accident data - but what there is shows worryingly high accident rates in the country’s construction sector. In a 2006 study of 42 construction contractors in Nigeria, it was discovered that the best safety record was five injuries per worker and two accidents per 100 workers – and that’s despite huge numbers of unreported cases!
Another study supported these high figures stating that even though the construction industry provided 12% of the GDP in Nigeria, many construction workers face more on-the-job injury and fatality risks than workers in any other professional field, and that one out of every five-workplace fatality involves a construction worker.
These high figures are in part due to the large portion of unskilled construction workers and the sites which are filled with heavy equipment and machinery, toxic substances, and explosives. Construction sites are also characterised by injuries resulting from fires, explosions, and falls from high-rise buildings or scaffolding.
Kenya’s occupational safety and health profile has found that the transport, post and telecommunications sector accounted for the highest number of accidents - recording 77 fatal and 453 non-fatal incidents between 2010 - 2011. The incidents were said to be as a result of short circuit or failure of electrical machinery, plant, or apparatus, attended by explosion or fire.
Mining is the most hazardous employment sector in Zambia. Between 2007 and 2011 of a pool of about 55,000 workers, the country reported 87 deaths and 914 non-fatal accidents. In 2011 alone there were 239 workers who were permanently disabled.
In other parts of Africa threats of injury and death, due to a lack of safety precautions and regulation, among miners are also prevalent.
Many of these deaths can be attributed to cave-ins of collapses - in 2013 for example a gold mine collapse in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) killed at least 20 people while a gold mine collapse in Ghana took at least 16 lives. Additionally, in the Darfur region of Sudan, a gold mine collapse killed about 100 people.
Violence also threatens the workers. The Center for Research and Development (CRD) – a human rights group - reported on a history of violence in the Marange diamond fields. In 2008, following the discovery that the Marange diamond fields contain one of the world’s richest diamond deposits, the Zimbabwean army invaded. It seized the diamond fields, allegedly massacring more than 200 diamond local miners and then enslaving local adults and children.
Below are notable mentions should also go to the hazardous professions that may not show the highest figures, in terms of fatalities and injuries, but whose workers are still risking their life on the continent for a cause…
Reviewing the Aid Worker Security database, since 2000, in Africa a total of 1,523 national and international staff were killed, 635 were wounded and 361 kidnapped.
Most of these incidents took place in the Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 2014, 27 rangers lost their lives in Africa with nearly 80% of them killed by poachers. Just to show the proximity and degree of interaction with the violent poachers the rangers have - in 2013 there were 343 rhino-related poaching arrests made in South Africa.
In Uganda, the DRC and Rwanda, rangers are directly responsible for an increase in the number of Mountain Gorillas, risking their lives to ensure the survival of this Critically Endangered species. For example, in May 2008 in the DRC, 80 Mai Mai militia ambushed a unit of 12 wildlife rangers on patrol near Rwindi in Virunga National Park. The DRC, has been riven by almost two decades of civil war and political instability and about 150 rangers have been killed in Virunga alone since 2004.