Enhancing the most vulnerable workers' capacities to organise themselves is one of today's main challenges for unions and the workers' movement. In the field of working conditions and health and safety, access to information is a key element in enabling workers – particularly those performing manual tasks – to defend their right to safer and healthier working conditions. For this purpose, the Hesparian Health Guides, a non-profit organisation founded in the early 1970s to help people with low resources to get access to health information, has recently published the Workers' Guide to Health and Safety.
This publication was specifically designed for the most vulnerable workers operating in export industries. In the emerging and developing countries, the electronic, garment and shoe sectors mainly hire low skilled workers from working-class backgrounds.
In order to reach the broadest readership, irrespective of their skills and educational level, the guide was written in a very simple and concrete language and is profusely illustrated. The 564-page book covers the main physical risks to which industry workers are exposed on a daily basis, such as the risks arising from working with machines, handling chemicals, working in noisy and dusty environments, being exposed to extreme temperatures and so on.
It is worth noting that, in contrast to many publications aimed at shop-floor level workers, the guide avoids the trap of blaming the workers. On the contrary, they shed the light on employers' responsibilities. ‘It is the responsibility of the factory owner to make sure the workplace is safe and that all jobs are safe jobs’, wrote the authors.
To exert pressure on factory owners and their clients – usually multinational companies – they encourage workers to join a trade union and participate in collective actions aimed at improving working environments.
Besides the traditional risks in the industrial sector, the guide also deals with what it calls ‘social dangers’. Under this heading, the guide's authors provide the readers with concrete advice on tackling problems such as discrimination, violence and harassment in the workplace.