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Subjective Workplace Risk Assessment of Rural–Urban Migrant Laborers (2009)

Zhang Xiulan,  Beijing Normal University (Small Grant 2009)

Rural to urban labor migration has been one of the central forces driving China‘s rapid economic development. However, labor migration has also been accompanied by a very poor Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) record for migrant workers. One intractable problem in understanding OHS problems, and how they shape migrants’ decisions about employment, has been the lack of good data on objective levels of risks and concern about using subjective perceptions of risk as a substitute. This project addressed this question by looking at the extent to which the subjective risk assessment of migrant workers can predict health outcomes and behavior.

The project surveyed 3,875 migrant workers in ten major migration destination cities across China between April and June 2009 and inquired about both subjective perceptions of risk and health outcomes and behaviors. The primary analysis consisted of a logistic regression of the relationship between perceived harmfulness and outcomes including actual accident rates, likelihood of ill health, self-protective behaviors, and total health expenditures. The level of risk in different occupations was also considered (for example, industrial and construction work in relation to services).

The survey results showed that subjective risk perception is consistent with an effective assessment of objective workplace risk. Maleness was a positive factor in increased risk perception, probably the result of perceived danger in male-prevalent occupations. Service occupations had a negative correlation with reported accidents, but a positive correlation with increased expenditures in healthcare compared to those working in industry, suggesting a difference in approaches when dealing with ill-health. Overall, perceived harmfulness did significantly correlate with negative health outcomes, although social factors in self-reporting seem to affect this assessment.

There are great potential benefits from continuing to study how subjective risk assessment can predict objective hazards in the workplace for Chinese labor migrants. When objective measurements are difficult to obtain, subjective risk can be a potentially invaluable tool for understanding health outcomes and behavior. Further research should also seek to elucidate the underlying mechanisms that determine and influence workplace risk perceptions.

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