24% 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 3-4 September the ETUI hosted the 3rd World Health Organization (WHO) Workshop of the WHO Guideline Development Group on Nanomaterials and Workers’ Health.
The German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety (BAuA) has recently published a Code of practice for the safe handling of nanomaterials in research institutions and SMEs.
On 2 October 2015 European trade union delegates, meeting in Paris for the 13th Congress of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), adopted an “Emergency motion” urging the European Union to protect its own health and safety at work directives against the European Commission’s wave of deregulation that has been going on several years.
Child labour, exposure to highly toxic chemicals and diseases related to extreme poverty and dismal, insanitary housing have been discovered at tea plantations in India despite the tea producers boasting certification by the corporate responsibility auditor the Rainforest Alliance.
In a judgment issued on 10 September, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) endorsed the earlier interpretation by five member states of a point in the REACH regulation concerning chemical substances categorised as being ‘of very high concern’ on account of their carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic properties. The CJEU decision requires vendors of products containing these substances to supply their customers with better information.
Yves Roquelaure (Ergonomics and Epidemiology Laboratory for Occupational Health)
Annie THÉBAUD-MONY, Philippe DAVEZIES, Laurent VOGEL, Serge VOLKOFF
Wim Eshuis, De Burcht