88th Session, 30 May 15 June 2000

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88th Session, 30 May - 15 June 2000

Report VI (1)

Safety and health in agriculture

Pages 28-30

National safety and health laws that comprehensively address agriculture

As mentioned before, there are few countries that have safety and health laws which address agriculture in a comprehensive manner. The most relevant examples are to be found in Argentina and France.

In Argentina the Regulations on Health and Safety for Agricultural Activities came into effect on 7 July 1997.(53) These regulations address a number of aspects of the safety and health of agricultural workers including: General obligations (Title I); Infrastructure (Title II); Machinery, Tools (Title III); Pollutants (Title IV); Electricity risks (Title V); Materials handling (Title VI); Fire prevention (Title VII); Vehicles (Title VIII); Forestry (Title IX); Animals (Title X) and Training (Title XI). The regulations were developed because it was acknowledged that existing safety and health laws in Argentina, although general in their scope, did not adequately address the specific risks of agricultural activities.(54) Argentina has also established a tripartite National Commission for Agricultural Work — which is part of the Ministry of Labour — to supervise the implementation of the law.

The French Labour Code provides the second example of a comprehensive legislative approach to safety and health in agriculture. It includes detailed provisions applicable to safety and health which have applied to agricultural undertakings since 1979.(55) The Labour Code outlines specific rules for the protection of safety and health in agricultural establishments.(56) These rules are supplemented by regulations and decrees which address certain aspects of safety and health in agriculture in greater detail.(57) The French Labour Code also makes special provision for the administration and enforcement of the safety and health requirements applicable to agricultural undertakings. Article L. 231-1-2 states that the powers conferred on the Minister of Labour and labour inspectors under the Code "shall be exercised in relation to the agricultural establishments mentioned in article L. 231-1 by the Minister responsible for agriculture and the labour inspectors working under his authority, respectively". The Minister of Agriculture is to be assisted in the development of decrees and regulations applicable to the agricultural sector by advisory bodies made up of equal numbers of representatives of employers' and workers' organizations.(58) The Code refers to occupational medicine(59) which also applies to the agricultural sector. It requires employers to "organize occupational medical services" in accordance with the relevant articles and relevant decrees.(60)

Brazilian law also includes comprehensive provisions applicable to the safety and health of agricultural workers. Act No. 5.889 of 5 June 1973 is a framework law concerned with rural workers. However, the legislative Act did not come into effect until 15 years after it was enacted under the Ordinance made under the regulations of
Act No. 5.889 (1988). In the same year, rural workers were explicitly equated with urban workers under article 7 of the federal Constitution.(61) As a consequence of these reforms, a series of regulations was also promulgated under this law in 1988, addressing matters, such as accident prevention, personal protective equipment and chemicals.

Other examples include, but are not limited to: Australia, Canada, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. All these countries have a significant body of decrees and regulations that apply to agricultural work which are designed to protect the safety and health of workers.

Subordinate safety and health standards relevant to agriculture

The broad duties in framework safety and health laws and labour codes are of limited effect unless they are accompanied by more specific decrees and regulations that specify exposure standards, record-keeping and reporting requirements, as well as other detailed rules. It is common for such regulations to be developed as part of a package of codes of practice, guidance notes and other similar documents. The purpose of these instruments, which may not be legally binding, is to provide employers and others with practical guidance on how they may fulfil their statutory duties of care.

The subordinate safety and health laws in many countries operate at three inter-related levels:

  1. general duties of employers, workers and others in statutes;

  2. more specific duties in decrees and regulations; and

  3. practical advice in codes of practice, technical standards, training material and guidance material that are not legally binding.

It is at levels two and three that the national laws of certain countries address safety and health issues relevant to agriculture. However, many such laws fail to address agricultural safety and health matters comprehensively due to the lack of detailed standards. This represents a major gap in the legislative coverage of the safety and health of agricultural workers. There are indications of positive developments in this regard as a number of countries are in the process of enacting specific legislation for the sector. The ILO has been advised by Fiji that the Government expects to promulgate specific agriculture-related regulations and standards within the next two to three years. In May of 1998, Bulgaria introduced a proposed Act on Agricultural and Forestry Machinery into its National Assembly. Chile has recently enacted a code of practice on forestry work.

Safety and health provisions in general labour codes range from extensive and comprehensive provisions to those that are more specific — which mainly cover machinery safety and chemical safety. Certain countries supplement basic provisions in their labour codes by more comprehensive requirements in specific decrees or regulations (for example, Brazil, Cuba, Spain and Viet Nam).(62) There are also provisions concerning issues relevant to working conditions and specific categories of workers in agriculture, such as maternity protection, migrant workers, child labour, hours of work and accident compensation.(63) Some countries have comprehensive safety and health regulations in addition to the provisions in their labour codes that relate to occupational safety and health (Burundi, China, France and Poland).(64) Certain countries incorporate safety and health legislation into their labour codes by referring to that legislation without repeating its wording (Japan, Republic of Korea).(65)

Among the large number of subordinate decrees and regulations applicable to the agricultural sector, there are a number of them that address:

  • safety measures concerning mobile machines for agriculture and forestry;

  • the protection of agricultural workers exposed to pesticides;

  • occupational diseases in agriculture;

  • occupational medical services in agriculture;

  • special protective measures for the use of explosives in agriculture;

  • the prevention of accidents in agricultural silos;

  • operations in agricultural enterprises requiring special medical supervision; and

  • safety measures to be taken during the preparation and use of anti-parasitic products in agriculture, etc.

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