Fishermen, Aborigines and drivers suffer significantly higher mortality rates than the average worker, according to recent research conducted by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).
By cross-referencing Department of Health national mortality statistics with information obtained by the Bureau of Labor Affairs, IOSH researchers were able to piece together a picture of the relative mortality risks of each profession.
"There were some surprises," IOSH chairperson Shih Tung-sheng (石東生) said. "For instance, we had no idea that fishing was so dangerous."
The average fisherman is 1.66 times more likely to die in any given year than the average worker, according to the IOSH report.
Common causes of deaths are more likely for fishermen across the board from malignant tumors to pneumonia to accidental deaths.
Land transport operators such as truck and bus drivers are 1.48 times more likely to die in a given year than the average worker. They are 2.11 times more likely to die in an accident, 1.89 times more likely to die because of vascular diseases and 1.66 times more likely to die from liver illnesses.
As a group Aboriginal workers fare even worse than the average fisherman or driver, with a mortality rate 1.87 times higher than average. Aboriginal workers are 3.16 times more likely to die from liver illnesses, 5.51 times more likely to die from communicable diseases or parasites and 6.49 times more likely to die from vascular diseases.
Chen Chiou-jong (陳秋蓉), the division director of the occupational Medicine Division of the IOSH said that in addition to number crunching, she and her colleges interviewed laborers all over Taiwan to try and figure out why the death rates for some are so much higher than for others.
"We found out that working on a fishing boat is cold, tiring work and many turn to alcohol to keep going," Chen said, "while in many Aboriginal villages, alcohol and betel nut use is widespread."
"We're more short-lived," was the fatalistic reply given to Chen by an Aboriginal man whom she interviewed.
However, Chen is more optimistic about the prospect of changing cultural and work habits in order to help marginalized workers lead longer, healthier lives, she said.
"These surveys tell us which groups are suffering disproportionate losses so we can focus our public health initiatives in those areas," Chen said.
Reaching out to workers in the right way is crucial to the success of any initiative to try and change ingrained habits, Shih said.
"We used to just print leaflets and give them away, but experience taught us this accomplishes little." Shih said. "We must involve organizations that workers know and trust to get our message out."
In the case of Aboriginal and foreign workers, this might mean spreading the word through community churches, while industry associations are a good way of reaching out to fishermen, Shih said.
The survey will now be conducted on an annual basis in order to track future trends, Shih said.