Cut ‘bureaucracy’ – and watch EU workplace deaths soar


With a trip to the United States scheduled for the month of his 19th birthday, dedicated student Tom Le Duault took a holiday job at a slaughterhouse near his home in Brittany to earn some extra cash.

But just hours into his first day on the job, he was crushed under a box weighing 500kg. This is one of the real tragedies underpinning disturbing new statistics on fatal accidents at work across Europe.

  • The number of parents, partners, children and siblings who went to work and never came home – should be enough to keep employers and politicians awake at night (Picture: David King)

An analysis of Eurostat data recently published by the European Trade Union Institute revealed that fatal accidents in the workplace are on the rise in 12 EU Member States, including Italy (+285), Spain (+45) and in Portugal (+27).

This is a wake-up call for everyone, especially bosses and politicians, who assume workplace fatalities will gradually disappear as part of a natural progression of society.

Of course, huge progress has been made over the last decades to make workplaces safer through stricter legislation and collective agreements, but our figures show that progress is stalling in some countries and declining. reverse completely in others.

There has been a successful corporate backlash against what their spin doctors have called “bureaucracy”.

For example, the number of people injured by machinery in Europe has increased over the past decade following a decision by the European Commission to scrap third-party safety checks as part of its policy of deregulation – pushed by corporate lobbyists.

New risks to workers’ lives are also emerging, including climate change. 60-year-old cleaning worker José Antonio González collapsed and died of a heart attack after being forced to sweep the streets of Madrid in temperatures of over 40 degrees.

He is one of a growing number of workers losing their lives because labor law has not changed with the climate.

The Wild West of platform work is also claiming victims.

Last month Sebastian Galassi, 26, was working as a food courier for Glovo in Florence when he was hit and killed by an SUV last month.

The investigation into his death is still ongoing, but research shows that the algorithms that manage rig work drive runners to go faster and take more risks to earn more work.

As threats to worker safety change and increase, laws to protect them must do the same. The atmosphere of complacency regarding occupational health and safety must end.

Frankly, the numbers in our study – all representing parents, partners, children and siblings who went to work and never came home – should be enough to keep employers and politicians up at night. .

As a wake-up call, the ETUC has launched its Zero Deaths at Work campaign which challenges politicians at European and national level to commit to taking the necessary steps to eradicate these preventable tragedies.

For example, by reversing the massive cuts that have been made to workplace safety inspections in the name of austerity. The number of inspections has fallen by 18% in the EU over the past decade, leaving too many workplaces completely unprepared for the pandemic and at greater risk of fatal accidents.

Beyond accidents, we must also redouble our efforts to eradicate occupational cancer, which still today claims the lives of more than 100,000 people each year.

The EU recently agreed new protections for workers against three other carcinogens, but there are still 23 others for which there are no exposure limits.

By far the leading cause of workplace cancer is exposure to asbestos, which causes 90,730 deaths per year and will cause 120,000 deaths per year by 2029 without further action.

Berlaymont’s asbestos hypocrisy

The European Parliament has voted to lower the exposure limit to 0.001 fibres/cm3 as recommended by the International Commission on Occupational Health.

But the European Commission, which removed asbestos from its own headquarters 25 years ago, has proposed a new exposure limit ten times higher than the experts’ recommendation.

Why? This will save businesses money. Instead, the bill will be footed by taxpayers who will continue to pay the €40 billion annual cost to European public health systems of treating people with asbestos-related cancer.

Too many politicians say the right things but are unwilling to make the decisions that would save lives.

The situation boils down to the fact that EU countries have voted at the International Labor Organization to make health and safety at work a fundamental right — but the majority of them have still not ratified the ILO conventions that would make this right a reality in their own countries.

However, if the political will exists, fatal accidents at work could be eradicated in the EU as early as 2030 – instead of 2062 as currently planned.

So far ministers from seven EU governments – Belgium, Romania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Finland, Slovenia and Slovakia – have signed our Zero Death At Work manifesto which commits them to taking the necessary steps to eliminate fatalities as quickly as possible.

People go to work to earn a living, but too many people in Europe lose their lives at work.

Family and friends of Tom Le Duault held a walk in his memory this weekend and we will remember Tom, Sebastian and José as we fight to ensure there is no repeat of the preventable tragedies that cost their lives.


Fr

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