globalA session on Wednesday afternoon at ASSE’s Safety 2013 promotes itself stating: “Most workplaces are like a mini United Nations. People from different cultures bring a range of values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that can challenge and impede your S, H & E efforts. “Managing Diversity for Safety, Health & Environmental Excellence” is presented by Luis F. Gonzalez, Topf Initiatives, Wayne, PA.

On a global scale workforce diversity can take on a different meaning than something that might “impede” your safety, health and environment efforts. The International Labour Organization (ILO) is addressing “the big picture” of working conditions and hazards faced by an ever-more-mobile workforce crossing borders around the world.

International migration has contributed to growth and prosperity in both host and source countries, says the ILO. Migrants provide a valuable source of semi-skilled and unskilled labor to many industrializing countries and provide a source of highly skilled labor to advanced countries, assisting the latter in maintaining economic competitiveness, according to the ILO .

The rate of growth of the world's migrant population more than doubled between the 1960s and the 1990s, reaching 2.6 percent in 1985-1990, and it is forecast that this trend will most likely accelerate in the 21st century, according to the ILO.

The term “migrant workers” covers a wide range of people with different reasons for migration and varying skills levels. Not all such workers are "at risk" regarding their safety and health at work, but there are three occupational safety and health issues relating to migrant workers that give the ILO concern. These are:

  • The high employment rates of migrant workers in high risk sectors;
  • Language and cultural barriers to communication and training in OSH; and
  • Migrant workers often work a lot of overtime and/or are in poor health and thus are more prone to occupational injuries and diseases.

More research is needed on the occupational risks to migrant workers, says the ILO. While there is literature on migration, on health, and on working conditions, there is little that brings together all these issues. The topic is complicated by the varying definitions of “migrant”, the use of other terminology, and an absence of robust statistics.

More good practice is required to ensure that employers, worker safety representatives and other stakeholders are able to find practical solutions to prevent harm to migrant workers, says the ILO.

Are “temp workers” in the U.S. migrant workers?

Yes, if you take the definition of migrant literally – one who moves from job to job.

In late April OSHA announced an initiative to protect temporary employees from workplace hazards. The agency sent a memorandum to its ten regional administrators directing field inspectors to assess whether employers who use temporary workers are complying with their responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Inspectors will use a newly created code in their information system to denote when temporary workers are exposed to safety and health violations. Additionally, they will assess whether temporary workers received required training in a language and vocabulary they could understand. The memo, which can be viewed at, underscores the duty of employers to protect all workers from hazards, states OSHA.