Let’s start by taking a look at the etymology of the word “labor” to understand why it has a widely negative connotation today, beyond the minimum safety and health conditions required. “Labor” may come from the Latin for “to slip, stumble.” This word entails toil or discomfort, and it has evolved throughout history in different languages (similarly “lavoro” in Italian, with Spanish “trabajo” and French “travail” originating in torture). While “labor” now implicitly involves economic compensation, it still has a negative connotation that should change if we want to live better and make our work a source of personal satisfaction, as long as health and safety prevail.
Today, more and more people have started doing just this, with their work having a purpose beyond a salary. Giving the work we do meaning can help us feel better, more motivated, and ultimately happier. However, we don’t always have the most favorable circumstances, and the lack of guarantees to carry out our tasks safely and healthily sometimes leads us to suffer from work-related illnesses.
Considering that we devote two-thirds of our lives to work, the conditions in which we perform our tasks clearly have a major impact on our well-being and health. Working in conditions with maximum safety should be non-negotiable, and it concerns all of us. Fortunately, there’s now much higher awareness of creating cultures of health and safety at work, with organizations’ management promoting safe and healthy work environments. There’s also active participation from everyone there in finding effective, sustainable solutions to any problems inherent to the work environment.
However, in certain sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, or construction, reducing the impact of work performance on health is still a daily challenge. But there’s still a long way to go to ensure the highest health and safety for individuals and get to the same level as in other sectors.
Health and Safety in the Construction Sector
Every day, about 6,300 people die worldwide due to work-related accidents or illnesses. That means more than 2.3 million deaths per year. Poor practices in occupational health and safety go beyond economic costs to governments: they carry a human cost that’s unacceptable and concerning.
Construction has higher accident rates than other fields, so it is still considered one of the most dangerous sectors to work in, given the high number of accidents and cases of poor health. Different studies show that the psychosocial factors inherent in work design and management contribute to an increase in work-related accidents and different health problems. What does this mean? The work of construction itself has a set of specific circumstances or characteristics that lead to stress, anxiety, depression, or dissatisfaction with work, to name a few factors. These therefore negatively impact the health, safety, and well-being of people. The pressure of deadlines, responsibility, lack of support, its seasonal nature and the prevalence of subcontracting, job insecurity, procedures, and lack of training and information are just a few examples of psychosocial factors that negatively affect our health every day.
What if we work together to build a positive culture of health and safety?
Celebrating World Day for Safety and Health at Work is undoubtedly an opportunity to continue raising global awareness of the magnitude, consequences, and impact of work-related illnesses, accidents, and injuries. This is first and foremost for workers but also for their families, organizations, and society at large. Though we have made astronomical progress in terms of health and safety in recent decades, there are still constant risks to the lives of people, and we cannot ignore this. Just as how Covid-19 has brought new ways of working, along with opportunities and risks, it has also undoubtedly shown us how important it is to have solid occupational health and safety systems.
It’s all of our responsibilities to put the health, safety, and well-being of people at the heart of the culture of any organization every day, with resilient systems that contribute to lowering the number of work-related accidents, injuries, and deaths.
Let’s consider combining this with a paradigm shift to reimagine “work” not as toil or suffering but as a purpose that gives meaning to what we do. If we have a healthy work environment where we can carry out our daily tasks, we can feel more motivated, our level of health and well-being will improve, and we’ll be able to enjoy a safe, satisfying working life.