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.
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.
A new research study by the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS) at Utrecht University estimates that the socio-economic costs associated with people's exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the European Union range between 46 and 288 billion euros per year. The report, published in early April, was commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.
A new federal rule, issued on 12 May 2016 by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), will require employers to submit electronically to OSHA injury and illness information. The new regulation will affect 432,000 workplaces with 20-249 employees in high hazard industries and 34,000 workplaces with more than 250 employees.
Trade unions are mobilising to urge the European Union to take precautionary action on the use of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate is the main active ingredient of the well-known product RoundUp, manufactured by the US agrochemical and biotechnology giant Monsanto. Although glyphosate was classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March 2015, it is still used to control grass and weeds in fields, backyards and gardens.
On 11 May the European Commission adopted a proposal for a revision of the Directive on the prevention of occupational cancers. The text proposes to adopt binding occupational exposure limits (OELs) for 13 substances. The previous directive only provided for three. The ETUI welcomes the fact that, after more than 10 years of procrastination, the European Commission has finally decided to strengthen its legislation against carcinogens in the workplace. It believes that the proposal does not go far enough, however.
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