Migrant workers and health and safety

A study on migrant workers and health and safety in the workplace, their experiences and perception of risks. The study also looks at under-reporting of accidents. 

So when I was studying for my masters, I had to write a dissertation and chose to research migrant workers in a fast food restaurant and their experiences with health and safety. I had just 4 months to research and write my dissertation so my hope was to find something meaningful and helpful to write about. So here’s hoping that you gain something from my findings. My dissertation actually came to around 20,000 words – including all the transcripts from the interviews I conducted, my analysis and interpretations. I tried really hard to summarise it into just over 600 words. So happy reading!

For my Masters dissertation, I set out to gain an understanding of the Health and Safety experiences of migrant workers in a fast food restaurant, assess their knowledge and understanding of the risks they face, and their level of risk perception.  I emphasise however that the risks are not only to migrant workers but to the entire workforce.

Previous studies show that many migrant workers in these kinds of jobs are on temporary contracts and as a result don’t get safety training and lack basic knowledge of their rights, their entitlements, employment terms and conditions and hazardous situations.

My interviews with shift managers and junior staff, confirmed this and that they often under-estimated the seriousness of the risks they face.  They believed that they were always cautious and dealt with any issues as soon as possible; but they lacked knowledge of basic Health and Safety terms such as safety procedure, safety equipment and emergency procedures, and they lacked knowledge of accident prevention, although they understood some of what they should do after an accident.

Only the shift managers had been on some sort of formal training (years previously), and there was no evidence of any refresher training. Some of the managers were involved in training staff by observing them as they carried out their duty and also by showing them how the job is done. But the managers responsible for training had not been trained to train others.  All information given to staff was in English, yet the interviews showed some of the migrant workers found communicating in English difficult – and suggests that this training would have had limited impact.  It was recommended that it would be better if training sessions could be provided in different languages and the training sessions interactive. Another recommendation was for all health and safety information in the workplace to be provided in both English and relevant languages.

During my research, there was also an issue of under-reporting and non-reporting of accidents: the migrant workers I questioned had never reported minor injuries because they thought it was “too small to report”; neither did they use the emergency services in the case of a potentially fatal accident. One of them had once hurt his head and it was bleeding but stopped his manager from calling an ambulance as he thought he could control it himself. They also believed accidents were their fault.

The most common reason for injuries was poor practices such as not following procedure or not using the safety equipment provided. Some studies support this finding and that accidents are caused by the pace of work. This was true in the case of a male Bangladeshi worker who was hurt while probably rushing when working in a busy and under-staffed environment. Some studies suggest that the reason why these injuries are never reported was because they feared losing their jobs or being reported to the immigration authority in the case of illegal/undocumented workers. My findings suggests that under-reporting is probably because they are scared of being told off, are not concerned and take things for granted.

The migrant workers I talked to did not have a good understanding of the health and safety risks they faced, because of a lack of appropriate training and information. My recommendation was for their employers to provide more interactive training and encourage unionization among staff as having the support of a union is more likely to guarantee a safer workplace especially for vulnerable workers.

Do you have comments? Feel free to contact me if you want to know more about my findings.

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