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.
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.
On 20 April the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) presented a white paper to Brussels on the subject of bladder cancer. This document is the result of a six-month-long collaborative working project between patients associations and expert representatives of various relevant medical disciplines. The white paper draws attention to the increase in cases of bladder cancer across Europe, a significant percentage of which are work-related.
The European Commission and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) have launched a two-year Europe-wide campaign under the banner 'Healthy Workplaces for All Ages'. The initiative, which is backed by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), focuses on the need to promote sustainable work and healthy ageing from the beginning of working life.
Every year on 28 April, the trade unions stage an event to condemn deaths caused by work. This year, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has chosen to focus on the need to adopt new health and safety laws at EU level. “Workers need better protection. New laws are needed now,” said Esther Lynch, the ETUC Confederal Secretary in charge of occupational health and safety issues.
Life expectancy in France varies widely between different social classes. At 35 years old, a manager can hope to live for another 49 years, compared to only 42.6 years for manual workers. A similar phenomenon can be observed in relation to different levels of qualification.
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