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ISSUE 48 page 7

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Health & Safety

Orange backs down on restructuring after spate of suicides

 AN OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH SURVEY has, for the first time identified 'psycho-social' risks as the most common reason for consulting a doctor in France; 80% of cases of depression and anxiety are work-related, it says. After a wave of job-related suicides in France (see our past issues) which, at different times, has implicated such well-known names as Renault, Peugeot--Citroën and EDF, the country's predominant communications firm France Télécom has sacked a senior executive and reversed policy to deal with the epidemic. Europe's third biggest 'phone company, which trades as Orange in the UK, faced a public relations disaster after 24 workers killed themselves in the last 18 months, many leaving notes blaming management bullying. After privatisation in 1998 the company has pursued an ever-quickening drive for efficiency that has resulted in over 40,000 redundancies and employees being regularly
France Té

staff and suspend internal transfers but, with the threat of a two day strike still imminent, eventually accepted the resignation of his deputy who was thought to be largely responsible for the restructuring programme. Later it emerged that €1 billion was to be devoted to a plan supervised by the new deputy, Stéphane Richard, formerly an adviser to the government, to review working practices. Measures are likely to include allowing all staff over the age of 57 to work part-time, government monitoring of company health and safety meetings and ensuring a minimum of three years work in the same area. Unions were cautiously optimistic, referring to a change of tone in management pronouncements while a spokesperson for Force Ouvrière called the new proposals 'a basis which we will try to improve'.

France Télécom workers protest against management bullying

relocated to the other side of the country. Trade unions also blamed performance targets for incidents like the death of a worker who threw himself off a motorway bridge and another who plunged a knife into his stomach during a meeting. After consulting the French Labour minister, chief executive Didier Lombard referred to a 'spiral of death' at the company which contrasted with previous comments he had made about staff outside Paris spending their time on the beach fishing for mussels. At first he offered to set up a telephone hotline for workers suffering from stress, hire more counselling



Single vote reverses driver hours win
IT SEEMS THAT WE SPOKE TOO SOON in reporting a victory for driver safety in our last issue. Although the Bauer report recommended the rejection by the European Parliament of a proposal by the Commission to exempt self-employed drivers from the Working Time Directive, the report itself was subsequently voted down 25-24 by the parliament’s employment committee. Opponents of the Commission remain convinced that a failure to include the self-employed will lead to some drivers working 86 hours per week and would be a ‘licence to kill’ according to UK Labour MEP Stephen Hughes. Trade unions in the shape of the European Transport Federation held an action day in Brussels against the 86-hour week. The committee will now hold further debate and put forward amendments to see if agreement can be reached before any proposal is returned to the full parliament.

EU to review nano laws as cases multiply

THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT HAS JOINED the chorus urging a review of the laws on nanomaterials, whose make-up has been changed at the molecular level, and the EU Commission appears to be ready to respond. Despite having specifically excluded nanos from new laws on carcinogens last year, the parliament is now keen for specific amendments to be made to the REACH chemicals legislation. Evidence is being gathered that some nanos may affect health through exposure at work. The European Respiratory Journal reported that seven female workers in China had developed shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs and around the heart, and fibrosis after working with nanoparticles in a print shop. Although they were using paints the symptoms were different from the usual ones associated with paint inhalation and nanomaterials were found in their lung tissue. Two of the women subsequently died.
Because this sort of investigation is still uncommon the parliament believes that  both data and methods are not sufficiently developed in this field for the general  EU legislation to work. It therefore wants safety reports to be carried out on all registered nanos regardless of proved hazards and compulsory notification when any such material is placed on the market. The Environment Commissioner promised ‘to review all relevant legislation within two years to ensure safety for all applications of nanomaterials in products with potential health, environmental or safety impacts over their life cycle’. However the industry insists that nanos are already covered in REACH while some safety campaigners want a new ‘nano chapter’ to be added to the law.

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