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Call for papers: Staying safe in the workplace: A special issue on enhancing safety for migrant workers


Guest Editors

Rose Shepherd, The University of Sheffield, UK

Professor Karina Nielsen, The University of Sheffield, UK

Dr Michela Vignoli, University of Trento, Italy

Francisco Javier García González, Valora Prevención, Spain


The health and safety of workers remains paramount across the globe. In spite of progress made however, there are still 374 million non-fatal work-related accidents or illnesses every year and more than 2.78 million workplace fatalities (International Labour Organization, ILO, 2018). This means every 15 seconds, 150 workers have a work-related accident and 1 worker dies. According to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there were 0.45 fatalities per 100 000 full-time workers in 2017/2018 (HSE, 2018), whilst the average across the EU-28 was 1.29 per 100 000 workers, with Romania and France having the highest rates (around 3.5 deaths per 100 000 workers). Likewise, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported 3.5 fatalities per 100 000 full-time workers in 2017 (BLS, 2018).

A particularly vulnerable group at increased risk of work-related accidents and injuries, are non-national or migrant workers (e.g., Dong, Choi, Borchardt, Wang, & Largay, 2013; Moyce & Schenker, 2018), defined as persons who are engaged or have been engaged in remunerated activity in a State of which they are not national (United Nations, 1990). In 2015, the ILO estimated there to be around 122 million migrant workers, representing around 4% of the total global population aged 15 years and over (ILO, 2015). More specifically, there were thought to be around 3.54 million non-nationals working in the UK in 2018 (11% of the total working population; Office for National Statistics, ONS, 2019) and around 27.4 million non-nationals working in the US in 2017 (17% of the total working population; BLS, 2018). By 2060, the BLS predicts the migrant workforce in the US will be twice the size of the native-born workforce (BLS, 2016).

All too often, however, migrant workers are employed in ‘3-D’ jobs – dirty, demanding and dangerous – where they work long hours, for little money, without adequate protective equipment and training (e.g., Qin et al, 2019). Migrant workers also face challenges related to language and cultural barriers, documentation status, and lack of knowledge of the host country’s safety standards and regulations (Donaghy, 2009; Moyce & Schenker, 2018). These issues, combined with their propensity to take greater risks to complete their assigned tasks and not complain about unsafe working conditions, enhances migrant workers’ vulnerability and, thereby, increases the likelihood of an incident occurring (Moyce & Schenker, 2018). For instance, of the 5147 work-related fatalities in the US in 2017, 18% were non-native workers from over 80 different countries (BLS, 2018). According to the US Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, migrant workers were 15% more likely to suffer fatal injuries at work in comparison with their native-born counterparts (BLS, 2017).

In addition, migrant workers are more likely to be employed in high risk industries, such as construction, maintenance, transportation and agriculture, which consistently report increased levels of work-related accidents and injuries (e.g., Buckley, Zendel, Biggar, Frederiksen, & Wells, 2016; BLS, 2017; Eurostat, 2018; HSE, 2018; Moyce & Schenker, 2018). For instance, within the EU-28, just over two thirds (67.8%) of all fatal workplace injuries in 2015 were in construction, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, forestry and fishing, with the construction sector alone responsible for 21% (Eurostat, 2018). Similarly, in the US, just under half (47%) of all work-related deaths in 2017 were in transportation, material moving, construction and extraction (BLS, 2018). Undoubtedly, the prevalence of migrant workers, as a high risk group, in these high risk industries, raises additional challenges in relation to safety.

Thus, there is a critical need for further research exploring safety for migrant workers, particularly in sectors at increased risk, and how it can be enhanced. There is a need to understand how injuries and accidents arise and, subsequently, how they can be reduced, through initiatives such as safety training (e.g., Zohar, 2002; Burke et al., 2006; Burke et al., 2011; Robson et al., 2012; Freitas & Silva, 2017; Cunningham et al., 2019), safety behaviour role modelling from leaders and supervisors (e.g., Barling et al., 2002; Hofmann et al., 2003; Beus et al., 2010), safety awareness campaigns in conjunction with professional bodies (e.g., IOSH, HSE, EU-OSHA), and workplace interventions aimed at enhancing safety climate (e.g., Zohar, 2002; Zohar, 2014; Zohar & Polachek, 2014). Whilst there is literature in these areas more generally, there is very little relating specifically to migrant workers.

The aim of this special issue therefore is to chart new territory in the safety literature by exploring ways in which safety can be enhanced for migrant workers. We invite high quality conceptual and empirical papers, welcoming a range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods. We also welcome high quality case studies of safety issues for migrant workers experienced in practice. We expect theoretical papers to clearly extend current theory or introduce novel ideas about initiatives to improve safety for this vulnerable group of workers. We are interested in a variety of questions relating to safety, including: -

  • What is the current state of workplace safety for migrant workers, particularly in high risk industries?
  • Where do the main challenges lie in relation to enhancing workplace safety for migrant workers, particularly in high risk industries?
  • To what extent are there variations in the state of workplace safety for migrant workers, according to culture?
  • To what extent are there variations in the state of workplace safety for migrant workers, according to industrial sector?
  • Given the variation in safety standards and regulations across countries, to what extent is it possible, or indeed desirable, to standardise safety requirements?
  • What learning can be drawn from high risk industries more generally, in terms of reducing accidents and increasing safety behaviours?
  • Which initiatives are effective for promoting safety behaviours for migrant workers? And how might these initiatives be evaluated?
  • How might desired behaviour changes be sustained in the longer term?

These questions are purely illustrative of potential topics and we welcome other investigations too.

We are very happy to discuss initial ideas for papers and may be contacted directly:

Rose Shepherd:

Karina Nielsen:

Michela Vignoli:

Francisco Javier García González:

Submission Method

The length of submitted papers will be between 7,000 and 10,000 words. Submitted papers must be unpublished and not currently under review by other journals.

All papers should be submitted via the Safety Science submission system. While submitting a paper to the special issue, please choose the article type “VSI: Migrant worker safety” otherwise your submission will be handled as a regular manuscript. All submissions will go through the journal’s standard peer review process. Criteria for acceptance include originality, contribution, scientific merit and relevance to the theme of the Special Issue. For author guidelines, please visit the website of the journal HERE

Timeline :

The intended timeline for the overall publication process of this Virtual Special Issue is:

Special issue article type becomes available in Evise: 1st September 2019

Submission deadline of full papers: 31st March 2020