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 24 June 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada has found that three hospital workers who contracted breast cancer while working in the laboratory at Mission Memorial Hospital (British Columbia) are entitled to workers’ compensation coverage.
The 12th edition of the ETUI’s annual seminar on chemicals and worker protection took place from 30 June to 1 July 2016. It brought together some 40 trade union members from across Europe with a view to coordinating trade union action on the current revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive.
Le personnel de caisse et des imprimeries présentent des concentrations de bisphénol A (BPA) dans leurs urines nettement plus importantes que la population normale. Telle est la principale conclusion d'une étude française menée auprès des travailleurs de 10 entreprises du secteur des services et des loisirs, et du personnel d'une imprimerie produisant du papier contenant du BPA. Les résultats viennent d'être publiés dans une revue de l'Institut national de recherche et de sécurité (INRS).
Working night shifts leads to sleep and metabolic disorders, and even severe diseases, according to a study published on 22 June by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES).
The Union syndicale Solidaires, a French trade union confederation with some 300,000 members, has recently put online a selection of articles on working conditions and occupational diseases (http://www.bonneff.com/). Published in the daily paper L'Humanité between 1907 and 1914, these documents remain surprisingly relevant, representing a goldmine for historians and a major journalistic contribution to the workers' movement.
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