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.
The annual strategic meeting of the Workers’ group of the Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work took place in Rome on 11 and 12 September 2014. This seminar is organised once a year by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) to coordinate trade union actions in the field of occupational health and safety across Europe. The meeting was attended by some 50 trade unionists from 24 European countries.
The XXth World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, held in Frankfurt (Germany) from 24-27 August, brought together nearly 4,000 participants. The ETUI was represented by Aida Ponce Del Castillo, the head of the ETUI Working Conditions, Health & Safety unit.
Maria Roselli, journalist
Marie-Anne Mengeot (Journalist)