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.
On 10 January this year, the European Commission adopted a communication on the future of EU legislation and policy on occupational safety and health (OSH). ETUI researchers have studied the text and have identified positive signs of a shift in policy in favour of workers, particularly with respect to exposure to chemical risks. The Commission’s proposals regarding a number of problems associated with the organisation of work, however, such as musculoskeletal disorders, remain distinctly unambitious.
A physically demanding job or work schedules outside normal office hours may lower a woman's ability to conceive, suggests research published online on 7 February in Occupational & Environmental Medicine. Researchers say women who work nights and irregular shifts have fewer eggs capable of developing into healthy embryos than those who keep regular daytime hours
‘It is becoming quite urgent to understand the exact mechanisms of nanotoxicity and make a classification depending on the mechanism. Radioactivity or X-rays entered our lives the same way. It took time until researchers understood the mechanisms of action on living organisms’, has warned Vladimir Baulin from University Rovira i Virgili, in Tarragona (Spain).
The articles published in the latest issue of HesaMag, the ETUI half-yearly publication on occupational health, are now online. The issue contains a special feature on labour inspection in Europe.
U.S. workers in industries that use or manufacture bisphenol A (BPA) have, on average, 70 times more of the chemical in their bodies than the general public—levels well above what has been shown to impact reproduction, according to a study published in early January.
Tony Musu (ETUI), Laurent Vogel (ETUI) and Henning Wriedt (Beratungs- und Informationsstelle Arbeit & Gesundheit, Hamburg)
Henning Wriedt (Occupational Health & Safety Advice Centre, Hamburg, Germany)