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.
One result of the economic crisis in Ireland has been to reduce both workplace accidents and the incidence of occupational disease, according to findings published in May. The researchers draw attention to inequalities among workers in this respect, with part-timers subject to much higher risk of accident than full-timers. The positive impact of workplace inspections is under threat because of cuts in the labour inspectorate’s budget.
The journal Ciencias do Trabalho published by the DIEESE, the joint research institute of the Brazilian trade union movement, brings together in a recent issue a selection of articles on trade union action in the field of occupational health and safety. ETUI researcher Laurent Vogel contributed to this initiative.
On 1 July a seminar organised by the EURACTIV press agency was held in Brussels to examine the synergy between the European legislation on the market for chemicals (principally REACH) and the rules to protect workers against occupational cancer. At this gathering the ETUI presented the trade union standpoint which is extremely critical of the European Commission.
On 24 June 2015 the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) called upon the European Commission and EU Member States to establish registers of buildings containing asbestos and to devise action plans for safe asbestos removal.
Analysis of the data collected by the French working conditions survey 2013 is contained in a recently issued report. On the one hand, the various forms of constraint that contribute to work intensity have been increasing steadily over the last 30 years; on the other, for an increasing number of workers the experience of work intensity is generated by several constraints of differing kinds.
Annie THÉBAUD-MONY, Philippe DAVEZIES, Laurent VOGEL, Serge VOLKOFF
Wim Eshuis, De Burcht