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.
A new federal rule, issued on 12 May 2016 by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), will require employers to submit electronically to OSHA injury and illness information. The new regulation will affect 432,000 workplaces with 20-249 employees in high hazard industries and 34,000 workplaces with more than 250 employees.
Trade unions are mobilising to urge the European Union to take precautionary action on the use of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate is the main active ingredient of the well-known product RoundUp, manufactured by the US agrochemical and biotechnology giant Monsanto. Although glyphosate was classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March 2015, it is still used to control grass and weeds in fields, backyards and gardens.
On 11 May the European Commission adopted a proposal for a revision of the Directive on the prevention of occupational cancers. The text proposes to adopt binding occupational exposure limits (OELs) for 13 substances. The previous directive only provided for three. The ETUI welcomes the fact that, after more than 10 years of procrastination, the European Commission has finally decided to strengthen its legislation against carcinogens in the workplace. It believes that the proposal does not go far enough, however.
On 22 April 2016, Belgian deputies introduced a draft law to improve workers' health surveillance during their whole career and after they have left the labor market. The implementation of an occupational health record is the key measure provided for in the text.
The European Commission has told Member State officials that its preferred option for improving transparency on nanomaterials is a public website listing existing information, rather than an EU mandatory reporting system. The decision was strongly criticized by the European Trade Union Confederation.
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