Safety and health at work: Developing health and safety at work in different industrial sectors through presenting findings and experience of relevant targeted projects

A seminar about “Safety and health at work: Developing health and safety at work in different industrial sectors through presenting findings and experience of relevant targeted projects” was organized from 16 to 17 May 2019 in Budapest by MOSZ (Munkástanácsok Országos Szövetsége) with the support of EZA and of the European Union. The seminar was part of the EZA project co-ordination about “Safety and health at work”. It was attended by colleagues from Hungary, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia.

The participants were greeted by Imre Palkovics, president of MOSZ who expressed his gratitude to EZA for having provided another opportunity to organise the seminar. He added that the topic of the event is a major challenge all over Europe and the seminar would enable the participants to exchange information, share good examples so that they can incorporate them in their interest representation activities in their own countries. Mr Palkovics told the participants that MOSZ had carried out a comprehensive research on occupational safety and health in several sectors within the framework of a project supported by the European Union. The research revealed a large amount of new and useful information for the trade union.

In her remark, Maria Reina Martin, the Portuguese vice-president of EZA said that unfortunately we usually concentrate only on those industrial areas where a lot of accidents occur. The issue of occupational safety and health affects many sectors, for example, teachers are exposed to enormous stress. Trade unions often neglect the problems related to overtime or 24-hour on-call shifts. These phenomena are the new challenges of the 21st century that we will have to address.

Piergiorgo Sciacqua, co-president of EZA from Italy who closed the opening session emphasized that one of the most important issues in Europe is the social dimension. Prior to the European elections, it is important that we acknowledge the achievements of Europe. One of the most significant results is the existence of genuine and constructive social dialogue. The progress made in the field of mobility and pensions after the Second World War is one of the basic pillars of Europe. We should always emphasize our responsibility. We should develop social policy together. There are significant challenges to be expected in the future: some jobs will disappear. However, hazardous jobs will also disappear due to robotization which will at the same time contribute to combating poverty. Psychological burdens resulting from the change of lifestyle pose new challenges that should be tackled by continuous health checks, the elaboration of preventive methods and adequate controls.

Dr Sára Felszeghi, occupational health expert, associate professor, chief medical inspector presented the results of the researches carried out in cooperation with Workers’ Councils. She emphasized that the right to health is a fundamental right in Hungary enshrined in the Constitution. As lasting harm, absence due to illness and rehabilitation entail very high costs; we can call occupational health a major national economic priority. The cooperation of occupational health professionals and doctors with trade unions is very important. MOSZ has been working together with a team of doctors who have been advocating reforms in this field for fifteen years. Formerly, they raised awareness about the topic via joint media appearances and they tried to draw public attention through conferences; at present they have established a joint data base that is the outcome of an overarching and comprehensive research. Within the framework of research and survey enterprises in five sectors were examined taking into account different - ergonomic, psychological and age - factors. Employers, employees, occupational physicians and occupational safety representatives were interviewed. Unfortunately, it can be observed that employers often try to conceal the problems. Many employers think that the company is their castle where they can do whatever they want. It is important to strengthen the dismantled labour inspection system. The obtained data are very helpful when negotiating with legislators.

Antonio Brandao Guedes, EZA project co-ordinator, spoke about the Portuguese experiences in regard of the participation of employees and workers in maintaining occupational safety and health. He revealed that a lot of cases are covered up in Portugal, especially minor accidents. The health authority also substantiated that the number of occupational diseases is underreported. As patients usually visit the GP (and not the occupational doctor) who does not ask about the circumstances and factors on the basis of which it could be detected if the particular disease is linked to the occupational hazards, no medical certificate is prepared that would confirm the occurrence of an occupational disease.

In her presentation, Dr Renáta Papp, primary care expert of the Hungarian National Health Care Centre said that the field of occupational safety and health is governed by provisions laid down by law. She pointed out the contradiction that although health care had been privatized – thus it is privately owned – its operation serves national interest. While 3.3 million people use the occupational health service, general medical practice covers 60 million cases. She emphasized that the number of occupational diseases is actually underreported.

Cadenas Norena, professor of Villanueva International University described the state of health care from the point of view of public policy.

Antonio Pedro Rouque Oliveira mentioned that an act adopted in 2009 in Portugal determines the responsibility of the Ministry of Health and clearly defines the responsibility of the employer, as well.

Antonio di Matteo, vice-president of EUCDW, spoke about the Italian situation. He mentioned that the number of occupational accidents increased by 0,9% in the past year. The growth can be partially attributed to the collapse of the Genoa Bridge that was an enormous shock for the whole Italian society. Most accidents occur in the agricultural sector and men are the most affected. In 2018, 1138 deaths were registered. The number of cancer cases due to exposure to fine dust was 4900. Antonio di Matteo thinks that Italian people blame the European Union just as in many other cases.

From the remarks and contributions it turned out that in many places there are no real inspections and in certain places entrepreneurs regard occupational safety as only one of the cost items.

Ezio Favetta, confederal secretary of UGL informed the participants about the installation exhibited on the World Day of the Victims of Occupational Accidents. The installation displayed puppets made from white cardboard paper to symbolize the people killed at work. The several thousand white puppets were exhibited in the most well-known squares all around Italy. The installation received extensive media coverage and the related events were organised until May 1. The project successfully raised public awareness and the topic became a common issue of public discussions. Mr Favetta offered their support to other countries who wish to organise similar events and said that they are willing to cooperate as partners in transnational actions.

Michaela Darle, sociologist at Cartel ALFA, Romania drew attention to the problems of the aging societies. She deemed it especially relevant to treat various psychological diseases and to deliver trainings on coping with the challenges, including support and counselling for the bereaved in dealing with the death of loved ones, support for the dying, mourning, relaxation, communication and spine protection.

During the discussion, the participants said that aging is a general phenomenon and as few young people enter the labour market, the maintenance of physical and mental health is even more important. Several participants stated that in numerous places it is a significant problem that self- employed persons and domestic workers are not covered by the directives.

In her presentation, Dr Judit Ivány Czugler, vice president for international and legal affairs at MOSZ spoke about the possibility at the EU level to agree on safe working conditions with specific conditions developed for individuals, particular branches or concrete workplaces in the concerned sectors. By presenting and the most relevant European legal documents including the European Social Charter, the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights for Workers and the European Pillar of Social Right, she emphasized that workers have the right to a high level of protection of their health and safety at work and employers are obliged to ensure conditions for protecting and preserving employees' health.