Immigration and accidents at work

An analysis of fatal and non-fatal accidents at work in recent years, broken down by nationality, suggests that immigrant workers are more vulnerable to workplace accidents than Portuguese workers. The study also suggests that foreigners most settled in Portuguese society, particularly those targeted by a recent integration initiative, are less likely to have workplace accidents, while groups such as Brazilians and Ukrainians, who generally do not stay long, are most at risk.

Since most immigrants come to Portugal to find work, a very high proportion of immigrants are active in the labour market and many of them find work in the construction industry. Official data show that the largest amount of accidents at work occur in construction, and this is linked to the occupational risks of the work involved and the poor health and safety conditions that frequently characterise the sector.

A study (in Portuguese, 538Kb PDF) assessing the relationship between immigration and accidents at work, conducted by Oliveira and Pires in 2010, uses two national data sources. The first is the Authority for Working Conditions (ACT) statistics on fatal accidents. The second source is the Report on Accidents at Work, issued by the Strategy and Planning Office of the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity (GEP), detailing fatal and non-fatal accidents at work.

According to data from ACT in 2008, around 49.2% of fatal accidents (59 out of 120) occurred in the construction sector. Out of every nine fatal workplace accidents involving workers who were not Portuguese citizens, seven took place in the construction sector.

Data released by GEP for 2008 show that 19.6% of fatal and non-fatal accidents occurred in the construction sector. Just over 25% of foreign workers involved in fatal and non-fatal accidents were working in the construction sector.

Recent trends in immigrants and accidents at work

Workplace accidents among native and foreign workers

Between 2003 and 2007, as shown in Table 1, non-fatal accidents decreased among Portuguese workers and increased among non-Portuguese workers. There was a decrease in both in non-fatal and fatal accidents involving foreign workers of -2.2% and -35% respectively between 2007 and 2008. In contrast, surprisingly, non-fatal accidents among Portuguese workers increased by 3.3% between 2007 and 2008.

Table 1: Distribution of fatal and non-fatal accidents at work between Portuguese and foreign workers, 2003–2008

Year

Non-fatal work accidents

Fatal work accidents

Portuguese

Foreigner

Portuguese

Foreigner

2003

220,020

10,697

264

37

2007

217,495

12,489

256

20

2008

224,646

12,220

218

13

% change

2003–2007

-1.1

16.8

-3.0

-45.9

% change

2007–2008

3.3

-2.2

-14.8

-35

Source: Strategy and Planning Office (GEP)

Two main factors may explain these statistics. The launching of the Plan for the Integration of Immigrants 2007–2009 may have contributed to the decrease in accidents among foreign workers. The plan included several specific measures focusing on safety at work among immigrant workers in sectors with a high prevalence of workplace accidents, including information and training, alongside the reinforcement of inspection of employers using illegal immigrant labour. A second factor is the economic downturn, which may have led to a deterioration in the working conditions of the economically active population in general, and in which workers’ first concern is to keep their job.

Accidents by economic activity

As already mentioned, foreigners are concentrated in economic activities already more prone to workplace accidents, so it is not surprising that they feature more often in accidents in those sectors. However, this study also illustrates the fact that foreign and Portuguese workers have different patterns of accidents while involved in the same economic activities (Table 2).

Table 2: Distribution of accidents at work, by economic activity among Portuguese and foreign workers, 2007
 

Fatal work accidents

Non-fatal work accidents

 

Portuguese

Foreigner

Portuguese

Foreigner

 

N

Accidents per 1,000 workers

N

Accidents per 1,000 workers

N

Accidents per 100 workers

N

Accidents per 100 workers

Agriculture, animal production, hunting and forestry

21

0.38

1

0.28

6,478

11.69

440

12.13

Extractive industries

4

0.34

0

0.00

1,933

16.60

74

16.34

Manufacturing industries

48

0.07

1

0.06

72,364

10.74

2,708

16.19

Manufacturing and electricity Gas and water supply

0

0.00

0

0.00

1,004

4.01

42

3.87

Construction

92

0.28

11

0.29

42,330

12.69

3,194

8.54

Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles

34

0.06

2

0.12

35,306

6.44

1,271

7.36

Accommodation and food services

2

0.01

0

0.00

10,418

5.69

1,066

4.34

Transports, storage and communications

27

0.14

2

0.29

9,709

5.08

491

7.07

Real estate activity, rentals and other services to enterprises

15

0.04

3

0.08

14,476

4.29

1,984

5.30

Education

1

0.01

0

0.00

2,110

2.88

68

4.00

Social activities and health

0

0.00

0

0.00

8,589

4.96

317

6.56

Other activities

11

0.05

0

0.00

12,778

6.21

834

13.78

Total

256

0.09

20

0.13

217,495

7.73

12,489

7.90

Source: Strategy and Planning Office (GEP)

The construction sector is particularly interesting. In 2007, 0.28 Portuguese and 0.29 foreigners per 1,000 workers died in an accident at work. For every 100 workers, there was a non-fatal accident involving 12.7 Portuguese workers and 8.5 foreigners. In other words, as a proportion of the total number of workers in each group, even though foreigners tend to have more fatal accidents in this sector, the Portuguese have more non-fatal accidents in construction. These statistics may be skewed by the fact that the presence of many foreigners in the construction sector is not officially declared, and this makes their true numbers invisible to a source that collects statistical information only on workers officially declared and/or with accident-at-work insurance.

Nonetheless, although in 2007 Portuguese workers had higher accident rates than foreigners in the construction sector, the data also suggests that more foreigners suffered an accident in other activity sectors which include construction related workers, such as ‘services rendered to other enterprises’ which covers many temporary agency workers in the construction sector. In this category, 4.3 Portuguese and 5.3 foreigners out of every 100 workers had an accident. This is also the case for transport and storage sectors, which include the driving of machines or vehicles associated with the construction sector, and where there is a higher rate of non-fatal accidents among foreign workers (7.1 per 100 foreign workers, compared with 5.1 per 100 Portuguese workers).

Non-fatal accidents by nationality

Table 3 shows that there are some nationalities that appear to be more prone to workplace accidents. For instance, considering the total number of non-fatal workplace accidents that occurred between 2006 and 2008, there was a progressive increase in the incidence of accidents among Brazilian workers from 1.1% to 1.5%.

Table 3: Number of non-fatal accidents at work, by nationality, 2006–2008

Country of origin

2006

2007

2008

N

%

N

%

N

%

Portugal

217,703

91.8

217,495

91.7

224,646

93.7

Brazil

2,623

1.1

3,138

1.3

3,551

1.5

Angola

968

0.4

1,096

0.5

636

0.3

Cape Verde

947

0.4

1,091

0.5

885

0.4

Guinea-Bissau

560

0.2

620

0.3

628

0.3

S. Tome and Principe

247

0.1

247

0.1

224

0.1

Mozambique

162

0.1

167

0.1

237

0.1

Other E.U. country

1,315

0.6

1,652

0.7

1,783

0.7

Other

4,779

2.0

4,478

1.9

3,976

1.7

Unknown

7,835

3.3

7,149

3.0

2,921

1.2

Total

237,139

100

237,133

100

239,787

100

Source: Strategy and Planning Office (GEP)

Fatal accidents by nationality

The nationality of the worker is also revealed to be an important explanatory variable in the incidence of fatal accidents (Table 4). Ukrainian and Brazilian workers are more at risk compared with workers of other nationalities. Foreign workers mainly from eastern Europe and Brazil who do not stay in the country as long as others, and therefore do not consolidate their integration into Portuguese culture, are more susceptible to temporary and precarious work situations. Since they may therefore tend to accept worse working conditions in the hope of being offered a formal contract of employment so that they can stay in the country, this may also make them more prone to accidents at work.

Table 4: Number of fatal accidents at work, by nationality, 2006–2008
Country of origin 2006 2007 2008

Ukraine

5

2

3

Moldavia

2

0

0

Romania

0

1

1

Russia

0

0

0

Angola

0

2

2

Guinea Bissau

0

1

0

Cape Verde

0

0

0

Senegal

0

1

0

Brazil

1

5

3

Other

10

1

0

Total foreigners

18

13

9

Source: Authority for Working Conditions (ACT)

Reference

Oliveira, C.R. and Pires, C. (2010), Imigração e Sinistralidade Laboral [Immigration and accidents at work], ACIDI, I.P., Lisbon.

Heloísa Perista and Janine Nunes, CESIS

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