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.
According to press reports, the European Commission is seriously considering proposing a limit on the use of the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A in a wide range of products. The only EU restriction imposed so far relates to the use of bisphenol A in baby bottles.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has recently revamped its website to enable workers to access improved information on chemicals to which they are exposed at work. The ECHA has developed a new feature, Infocard, which enables users to view at a glance the key properties of more than 120 000 substances. RISCTOX, the ETUI database on chemicals, has been a source of inspiration for the new ECHA website and the ETUI staff has been involved in its development.
On 12 January Barack Obama announced the launch of a national plan to eradicate cancer. ‘Let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all,’ he declared to members of Congress who had assembled to hear his State of the Union Address.
On 25 January, some thirty researchers, trade unionists and representatives of associations attended a seminar organised jointly by the ETUI, the Belgian association Santé & Solidarité, and the Free University of Brussels (ULB). The gathering, held this year for the second time, was intended to present projects in which researchers and workers contribute their joint efforts in pursuit of a common goal, namely to raise visibility of the impact of work on health.
Poultry workers in the USA suffer extremely high rates of injury, earn poverty level wages, and work in a climate of fear, Oxfam America has claimed in a report disclosed in late October.
Christophe Hauert, Danielle Bütschi, Jean-Christophe Graz, Marc Audétat et Alain Kaufmann
Yves Roquelaure (Ergonomics and Epidemiology Laboratory for Occupational Health)