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.
L'Union syndicale Solidaires, une confédération syndicale française qui compte quelque 300.000 membres, a récemment mis en ligne des enquêtes sur les conditions de travail et les maladies professionnelles. Parus entre 1907 et 1914 dans le quotidien L'Humanité, ces articles restent d'une étonnante actualité. Ils constituent une source de premier plan pour l'histoire du monde ouvrier et une œuvre journalistique originale.
Avec deux ans de retard par rapport à ses obligations légales, la Commission européenne a présenté le 15 juin des critères qui permettront d’identifier les perturbateurs endocriniens, ces substances qui dérèglent le système hormonal. Ils se fondent sur une définition établie en 2002 par l’Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS). Tant les organisations de défense de l'environnement et de la santé que l'industrie des pesticides ont critiqué le choix de la Commission, pour des raisons diamétralement opposées.
On 7 June the US Senate approved a reform of the law on dangerous substances. With this vote the regulation of chemical substances will be reformed in a significant manner for the first time in 40 years. The text pays more attention to the environmental and health issues. Hitherto, economic criteria have largely outweighed any others.
The latest issue of HesaMag, the ETUI periodical on health and safety at work, came out in early June. It contains a special report entitled ‘Construction workers at the mercy of social dumping’.
On 25 May 2016, six organisations, including the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), gathered together in Amsterdam to sign a Covenant on a new "Roadmap on carcinogens". This voluntary action scheme aims to raise awareness about the risks of carcinogenic exposure in the workplace and to exchange good practices. The Roadmap, drawn up by the Covenant’s signatories, was adopted at a conference organized by the Dutch EU Presidency on the prevention of work-related cancer. Esther Lynch, ETUC Confederal secretary in charge of health and safety at work, took part in the debate alongside four ETUI researchers.
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