Occupational health in Central America

Int J Occup Environ Health. 2002 Apr-Jun;8(2):125-36. doi: 10.1179/107735202800339028.


The 12.4 million economically active population (EAP) of the seven Central American countries includes a large informal sector. Social security covers only 14-60%. No surveillance of occupational safety and health (OSH) hazards or accidents exists. Extrapolating the incidence of occupational accidents among insured Costa Rican workers to the Central American EAP yields two million accidents yearly, still a gross underestimate. Occupational diseases are underreported, misdiagnosed, and not recognized as such. A number of regional OSH programs aim at modernization of the labor administrations and address the formal sector, in particular textile maquila, in connection with free trade agreements. The weak role of the ministries of health is expected to strengthen under the Pan American Health Organization OSH program. Employers largely influence new policies. Workers' influence on OSH policies has been weak, with only about 10% unionization rate and scarce resources and OSH knowledge. Informal workers, however, are getting organized. OSH research is underdeveloped and not linked to policy making. Construction, agriculture, and general un/underemployment are considered priorities for intervention. The informal sector needs to be included in national and regional OSH policies. Regional collaboration and international development support are of strategic importance to achieve sustainable improvement in OSH.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / statistics & numerical data
  • Central America
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Global Health
  • Government Agencies
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation
  • Occupational Health* / statistics & numerical data