23% of European workers believe that their safety or their health is at risk because of their work – a figure which shows that working conditions in Europe are not improving. And even though manufacturing employment across Europe is shrinking and losing ground to service jobs, exposure to traditional physical hazards - noise, dangerous goods, heavy lifting, etc. – has not gone away.
Along with this, a growing number of workers are complaining of the effect their work is having on their psychological health. Ill-being at work can end in tragedy, as evidenced by the wave of suicides that has affected some big French companies in recent years.
New forms of work organization and the increasing time-pressure of work may be partly behind the persistence of traditional risks and the emergence of new ones in firms. Trade unions believe that work intensification is the main cause of the work-related stress and musculoskeletal disorders now seen to be affecting more than one in five workers.
While these may be problems in all countries, industries and occupations, it is clear that the lowest-skilled and manual workers are bearing the brunt. The healthy life expectancy of a 35-year-old manual worker in France, for example, is ten years less than that of a manager. As the talk in many EU member countries turns towards staying working longer, a debate on working conditions and their impact on workers’ health is a must. We are stepping into that debate through the following topic studies.
From 8 to 9 September, in Vienna the ETUI organised its annual Strategic Seminar ‘Together for Health and Safety’. This thirteenth meeting gathered the members of the Workers’ Interest Group (WIG) of the Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work (ACSH).
In late July, the New York State Department of Health issued a report on workers' exposure to hazardous chemicals in nail salons. The report's authors reviewed the scientific literature and consulted experts from health and environmental agencies across the United States. They found that people working in the nail care industry are potentially exposed to about 100 chemicals that are present in manicure products, including some carcinogens (benzene, formaldehyde) and reprotoxics (toluene).
It’s official. Cancer is now the main cause of death in western Europe, overtaking cardiovascular diseases. That is the main conclusion of a study published in August 2016 by the European Heart Journal.
Enhancing the most vulnerable workers' capacities to organise themselves is one of today's main challenges for unions and the workers' movement. In the field of working conditions and health and safety, access to information is a key element in enabling workers – particularly those performing manual tasks – to defend their right to safer and healthier working conditions. For this purpose, the Hesparian Health Guides, a non-profit organisation founded in the early 1970s to help people with low resources to get access to health information, has recently published the Workers' Guide to Health and Safety.
The latest statistics on accidents in the workplace in Spain indicate that they increased by 12.3 per cent in 2015 in relation to 2012. In 2015 there were more than 529,000 accidents, including 629 fatalities. The data available for the first six months of 2016 confirm this worrying upward trend.
Tony Musu (ETUI), Laurent Vogel (ETUI) and Henning Wriedt (Beratungs- und Informationsstelle Arbeit & Gesundheit, Hamburg)
Hugh Robertson (TUC, United Kingdom)
Henning Wriedt (Occupational Health & Safety Advice Centre, Hamburg, Germany)
Christophe Hauert, Danielle Bütschi, Jean-Christophe Graz, Marc Audétat et Alain Kaufmann