Occupational Health and Safety in the Palm Oil Industry: A Systematic Review

Int J Occup Environ Med. 2019 Oct;10(4):159-173. doi: 10.15171/ijoem.2019.1576.


Background: The palm oil industry is the largest contributor to global production of oils and fats. Indonesia and Malaysia are the largest producers of palm oil. More than a million workers are employed in this industry, yet there is a lack of information on their occupational health and safety.

Objective: To identify and summarize occupational hazards among oil palm plantation workers.

Methods: A search was carried out in June 2018 in PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, and Ovid. Relevant publications were identified by a systematic search of four databases and relevant journals. Publications were included if they examined occupational hazards in oil palm plantation workers.

Results: 941 publications were identified; of these, 25 studies were found eligible to be included in the final review. Of the 25 studies examined, 19 were conducted in Malaysia, 2 in Costa Rica, and one each in Ghana, Indonesia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Cameroon. Oil palm plantation workers were found to be at risk of musculoskeletal conditions, injuries, psychosocial disorders, and infectious diseases such as malaria and leptospirosis. In addition, they have potential exposure to paraquat and other pesticides.

Conclusion: In light of the potential of palm oil for use as a biofuel, this is an industry with strong growth potential. The workers are exposed to various occupational hazards. Further research and interventions are necessary to improve the working conditions of this already vast and growing workforce.

Keywords: Leptospirosis; Malaria; Occupation; Occupational injuries; Palm oil; Pesticides; Risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cameroon / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Costa Rica / epidemiology
  • Food Industry* / standards
  • Food Industry* / statistics & numerical data
  • Food Safety
  • Ghana / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Indonesia / epidemiology
  • Malaysia / epidemiology
  • Myanmar / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure* / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure* / statistics & numerical data
  • Occupational Health* / statistics & numerical data
  • Palm Oil* / adverse effects
  • Papua New Guinea / epidemiology
  • Pesticides / toxicity
  • Plant Oils / adverse effects


  • Pesticides
  • Plant Oils
  • Palm Oil