Health and safety trends: European-wide survey results 2000
Overview of the European Survey - paper given by Pascal Paoli, Research Manager, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin, Ireland at the "e-OSHE World: Seeing the future" Conference, 22-23 June 2000, Dublin, Ireland
The results to date of the latest survey carried out in the European Union on working conditions by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin, Ireland follow. These surveys have been organised since the early 1990s, in 1991, 1995/6 and the current one in 2000, from which the data is just being finalised.
The details include:
- what is done
- why it is done
- what kind of information is gathered
- the format in which the information is received
- the various outputs
- and how it can be used
The European Foundation, similar to others, has large amounts of qualitative data but not much in the way of quantitative data. It very important to carry out research at European level, although in future surveys, we might extend to other countries aiming to be part of the wider Europe. We need to know if there are programmes monitoring working conditions, we also need to know the trends, the risks, and the groups more exposed than others to risk. Overall it is important to have numerical data, but we think that the indicators we have, do not reflect the current risks in the workplace. We do know that it is important to have all this information in electronic format.
Why the surveys are carried out
It is important to have these kinds of surveys, but we cannot hope to have answers for all the questions. These surveys are more of a political kind, because they give a broad overview of the workplace, seen from the workers' point of view. The figures gathered can be used quite easily. They give the context to a number of issues, and are necessary to provide that overview. They also identify issues where we need to do further research. For example in the 1990s, the surveys indicated that stress was becoming a main issue, and we started detailed research to further identify stress on the shopfloor, how to deal with stress at company level, and cost benefits of stress control. In 1995 and 1996 we found that precarious employment was a key issue, and we started a lot of qualitative research to identify the relationship between the status and working conditions. There is now discussion at European Union level, with the social partners on fixed terms contracts, so the Foundation's role is to provide the background for such type of debate. It is also to legitimatise our activities, i.e. why do this, rather that that! It is also a good way of combining both quantitative data and qualitative data. We are also going to carry out research into industry branch profiles.
It is important that workers have a say in their perceptions of working conditions, because workers are experts in their own particular job or area of work.
Currently, we do not have all the results from the 2000 survey. The survey is carried out every five years, by questionnaire and by interviewing workers. This is based on what has been done on national level by various groups.
We have a working group who sets up the questionnaire and check the methodology. We have experts from various backgrounds - from Eurostat, representatives from employers and employees who all contribute to the methodology. We believe that we have evolved a cost effective way of monitoring work.
The surveys were carried out in all fifteen Member States, with a total of 24,000 questionnaires being completed. It is also very cost effective - the total cost was 900,000 Euros, which works out year-on-year to 200,000 Euros per year.
The questionnaire is very objective, its focus is in situations and risk factors and contains a description of the workplace, rather than opinions. In the fifteen countries, 1500 face to face interviews were also carried out. These were a random survey, representative of the working population.
We use the latest Labour Force surveys available, and cover the employed as well as self-employed. We also cover non-EU workers. The questionnaire contains about 80 questions which cover all working conditions, countries, industry sector, jobs, age, gender, different types of companies, indefinite contracts, short term contracts.
The questionnaire asks the respondent to describe the many aspects, including those linked to the physical design of workplace, e.g. noise, heat etc, the actual place of work, the various features, duration of work, the time patterns, descriptions of the organisation of work, job content, job control etc which people may have.
The questionnaire also asks for information about the kind of training and support the worker receives; the social environment - consultation and participation; harassment. We try to get the interviewee to describe the work undertaken and also other aspects such as:
- self-reported health aspects of works
- number of children
- gender dimensions of work
Field work carried in March 2000
The type of data - outputs already assessed in this Third European Survey on Working Conditions are as follows:
Percentage of workers complaining of:
- backache - 34% (back pain, arms and hands pain are increasing)
- stress and burnout - 28%
- fatigue - 28%
- muscular pains - 36%
We also see traditional risk factors, e.g. noise, chemicals, heavy loads, etc do remain constant, and these are still here in 2000.
Between 1991 - 1996 we can see that the dominant factors such as exposure to noise, air pollution, have not diminished and these traditional issues are still on the agenda. But we now also have new issues; whilst we are working shorter hours in Europe, we work faster, have precarious and temporary employment which has produced worsening conditions. We have irregular time factors - we do not work the same number of hours or the same days per week, and we can add repetitive work as a new factor. Technology is not improving working life in general, it may be improving activities in some areas. Consequently we must bring occupational health back on the political agenda.
To support this are the following examples:
- Repetitive hand and arm movements - a third of workers are now affected by the working conditions
- Intensification of work - increase between 1991 and 1996 - increase of six points
- Not many people have control of work, and coupled with the intensification of work leads to stress.
- Lack of occupational health policies.
Groups at risk
Increasing 16% of workers on short term contracts or temporary work. What kind of jobs do we create? This type of work includes heavy manual work, repetitive work
50% of the workforce are female. High demands, low control of work and long working hours. It is also known that stress is related to number of children in a family.
What is done with this type of data
Report the analysis, and publish reports of summaries, plus more in-depth reports for researcher. Once we have published these reports, we will provide country data, raw data. As the information is available in electronic format, a disc with details is available for anyone to use, on the condition that they give the Foundation a copy of their report.
This type of survey cannot answer all the questions, but the results give a broad overview, important figures, and give context to a number of issues which are being discussed, and are helping to identify topics where the Foundation can carry out further research, in the 1990s the first survey indicated that stress was emerging very strongly as a main issue. So we carried out surveys and research on stress on the shop floor etc. and made available the results. In 1995/6 we found from the second survey that precarious employment was a key issue, and we started a lot of qualitative research on the conditions. This is now being discussed at the European Commission level and we have been able to gives details on fixed term contracts, temporary contracts.
We are going to combine both hard and soft data, qualitative and quantitative data to provide information at European Union level. We look also at the ageing processes in the workplace, the Foundation is also looking at Gender issues, which has led us to look how companies set up equality plans, to try and promote gender quality in the workplace, through training policies, health policies, recruitment policies etc.
This type of survey work has contributed to bring back working conditions and health at work on the political agenda. It is an old issue and our research results are used in different ways by other organisations with which we collaborate. You will hear later in the conference about the European Agency in Bilbao. This work is contributing to the state of occupational safety and health.
The Foundation has a web site, which is currently being re-designed, and we will have a dedicated web page on working conditions, starting this year, where we will provide the data which I have presented to you, and also we will make it available on other data sources. It also enables us to make this work more visible to provide other responses to demand. The 1996 survey tables are available on the web site of the European Foundation for the Improvements of Living and Working Conditions site see www.eurofound.europa.eu and also contact firstname.lastname@example.org for papers given at the "e-OSHE World Conference: seeing the Future" Conference, Dublin, Ireland.