Occupational Health & Safety in Iran
Companies entering Iran will find a challenging occupational health and safety (OHS) environment, in which workplace accidents and deaths significantly exceed international and developing country averages. These challenges can be addressed by implementing responsible OHS practices and by putting in place systems to help ensure business partners in Iran do the same. Some Iranian companies and state agencies have indicated a desire to improve OHS standards, which should help foreign investors’ efforts in this direction.
OHS CHALLENGES IN IRAN
There are considerable differences among Iranian companies regarding OHS performance, even within sectors, and some have implemented rigorous OHS procedures. There are also Iranian state agencies and research centers that have indicated a growing willingness to support better OHS efforts and hold foreign companies accountable to their OHS obligations.
Nevertheless, work-related accidents resulting in death in Iran in 2014 occurred at a rate more than eight times the world average according to statistics released by Iran’s Legal Medicine Organization (ILMO), and the trend lines are poor: workplace deaths nearly tripled from 2004 to 2014, with early 2016-2017 data showing a 10% increase in fatal accidents over the preceding year.
The 1,891 workplace deaths in Iran reported by the ILMO in a 12-month period over 2014-2015, itself an under-reported figure, represents a rate many times higher than that in EU countries, even in the least developed Eastern European and Balkan members. Iran’s work fatalities have also long exceeded Turkey’s by hundreds per year, a regional neighbour of comparable development and labour force size, up until a recent spike in Turkish workplace deaths.
Fatal accidents in Iran occur primarily in the construction industry (accounting for some 60% of all workplace deaths according to recent statements by Iranian officials) and, secondly, in the mining sector. Rates for all types of workplace accidents are highest in the basic metals, electrical and nonelectrical machines, and construction industries. Falling from heights and crush injuries were the most common accidents (with the accident rate dramatically higher for workers in the 15-24 year age range), and prevalent occupational-related diseases include musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory disorders and noise-induced hearing loss. Iranian studies have also detailed substandard OHS conditions in the petroleum (especially drilling), food and beverage, automotive, and pharmaceutical sectors, among others.
WHY ARE OHS STANDARDS LACKING IN IRAN?
Substandard OHS conditions in Iran are largely due less to regulatory shortcomings than to inadequate monitoring and enforcement, demonstrated in insufficient inspections, supervision and penalties for violations. Official Iranian statistics indicate 800 auditors serve 12 million registered workers—which amounts to one auditor per 15,000 workers. Iran’s OHS regulatory system is also hindered by bureaucratic overlap and lack of coordination.
Numerous Iranian studies indicate a lack of awareness of OHS standards among employers, managers and workers, significant lack of training in safety procedures, and inadequate protective equipment and safety procedures. Additionally, as in many geographies, corruption undermines implementation of OHS regulations.
Iranian studies also note a lack of management commitment to safety protocols and a workplace culture in which OHS is given low prioritisation. Iranian managers often view OHS compliance as a cost rather than investment, and companies may find that their local partners do not require rigorous OHS standards. Lax employer attitudes are compounded by a scarcity of Iranian NGOs and civil society organisations advocating for more rigorous OHS standards.
Large numbers of refugees and migrant workers exacerbate the problem. Nearly three million Afghan migrants in Iran—perhaps as many as 2 million illegally—provide employers with a large pool of labour unable and unwilling to register OHS complaints, especially in the construction industry where many Afghans work.
OHS IS FURTHER UNDERMINED BY THE LACK OF INSURANCE FOR MANY IRANIAN WORKERS
A high proportion of Iranians work without insurance, in violation of Iranian law and international standards that workers be covered. Based on official Iranian government reports, at least one third of Iranian employees are not insured at all. Of the two thirds, many are self-insured and thus significantly underinsured.
Lack of insurance results in workers and employers not reporting—or receiving any treatment or compensation for—workplace accidents or illness, and in OHS violations left unchecked.
The lack of insurance arises largely from the roughly 90% of Iranian workers who are employed under temporary contracts. While insurance is required under these contracts, this is not enforced and thus often not provided. The lack of job security under them (as well as high levels of un- and under-employment) makes workers unlikely to demand insurance (or make OHS complaints).
In addition, under Iranian labour law, workplaces with less than 10 employees are exempt from the requirement to offer insurance, and such enterprises may represent as many as 50% of Iranian workplaces. One out of three Iranian workers are also estimated to be working in the unregistered and unregulated informal economy.
WHAT COMPANIES CAN DO:
> Institute responsible OHS policies and practices, which may require implementing standards beyond compliance with Iran’s regulations, regarding tools, safety equipment and clothing, the physical work space, training, monitoring, enforcement and grievance mechanisms.
> Undertake rigorous due diligence on partners’ and suppliers’ OHS policies and practices, including direct engagement with workers to assess the impact of these practices, and work with partners and suppliers to ensure appropriate policies and practices are in place, including monitoring and handling grievances for injured workers.
> Communicate expectations regarding standards when building relationships with partners and suppliers in Iran, and train local employees and managers in responsible OHS practices.
> Seek support and guidance from home governments and industry associations—as well as from potential Iranian partners which may include state agencies, business associations and academic centers—on implementing responsible OHS practices and sector-specific training programs.
Respecting people and the environment
Reducing risk for companies
Enhancing the benefits of business for all
IBR is a nonprofit initiative that works with companies, governments and other stakeholders to foster responsible business practices that respect people and the environment, enhancing the benefits business can bring and reducing the risks for companies.