Emily Q. Ahonen
Occupational health and safety concerns classically encompass conditions and hazards in workplaces which, with sufficient exposure, can lead to injury, distress, illness, or death. The ways in which work is organized and the arrangements under which people are employed have also been linked to worker health. Migrants are people who cross borders away from their usual place of residence, and about one in seven people worldwide is a migrant. Terms like “immigrant” and “emigrant” refer to the direction of that movement relative to the stance of the speaker. Any person who might be classified as a migrant and who works or seeks to work is an immigrant worker and may face challenges to safety, health, and well-being related to the work he or she does. The economic, legal, and social circumstances of migrant workers can place them into employment and working conditions that endanger their safety, health, or well-being. While action in support of migrant worker health must be based on systematic understanding of these individuals’ needs, full understanding the possible dangers to migrant worker health is limited by conceptual and practical challenges to public health surveillance and research about migrant workers. Furthermore, intervention in support of migrant worker health must balance tensions between high-risk and population-based approaches and need to address the broader, structural circumstances that pattern the health-related experiences of migrant workers. Considering the relationships between work and health that include but go beyond workplace hazards and occupational injury, and engaging with the ways in which structural influences act on health through work, are complex endeavors. Without more critically engaging with these issues, however, there is a risk of undermining the effectiveness of efforts to improve the lot of migrant workers by “othering” the workers or by failing to focus on what is causing the occupational safety and health concern in the first place—the characteristics of the work people do. Action in support of migrant workers should therefore aim to ameliorate structural factors that place migrants into disadvantageous conditions while working to improve conditions for all workers.