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OHS in a Historical Trade Union Perspective


... unique alliance was made between students and trade unions ... walked on two legs: ... in getting compensation for the women and the disease is now ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: OHS in a Historical Trade Union Perspective

OHS in a Historical Trade Union Perspective
  • Thora Brendstrup
  • Medical advisor, MD, PhD
  • 3F, United Federation of Danish Workers

The Danish Experience
  • And something about European OHS movements.
  • Denmark is special - it has no factory doctors
    and no doctors within the companies the
    factories are too small.

  • A blowing industrialization and a growing
    awareness concerning health and safety problems.
  • Focus on classic occupational diseases such as
    silicosis in the lungs of quarry workers and

  • Focus on new chemicals used in the industry
  • The painters want to know what is in the paint.
    They contact their trade union and asked about
    this. The union seeks expert advice amongst the
    students at the universities.
  • A unique alliance was made between students and
    trade unions organizing painters, bricklayers,
    welders, etc.
  • This alliance was based on trust, probably
    because Denmark is so small that everybody know
    one another.

1970-1980 continued
  • In the alliance between unions and students
    reports were made to document health and safety
  • Loss of hearing amongst brewery workers.
  • Brain damage amongst painters working with
    organic solvents.
  • Low back pain amongst brick layers.
  • Knee problems amongst carpet layers.

1970-1980 continued
  • 1971 - the first OHS consultant was engaged by
    the General Workers Union.
  • 1978 - a new law was passed on protection of the
    working environment.
  • The trade unions walked on two legs
  • 1. Trying to improve the regulation of the
    working environment.
  • 2. Helping members to get compensation after an
    industrial injury.

1980 - 1990
  • Trade unions were represented in tripartite
    organizations to improve the working environment
    and to improve compensations.
  • Election of safety representatives in the
    companies became mandatory.

1980 -1990 continued
  • A successful story is the union fighting against
    organic solvents in paintings
  • One result was that brain damage was compensated
    as an occupational disease.
  • Another result was that the paint factories
    substituted the organic solvents by paint based
    on water. An export succes story

1980 1990 continued
  • The unions supported the development of clinics
    of occupational medicine in all the counties of
  • The unions won the right to refer their members
    to these clinics.
  • The clinics have doctors specialised in
    occupational medicine, paid by the government,
    not by companies. They give a neutral evaluation
    of the disease and its connection to the working

1980 1990 continued
  • New OHS problems were discovered
  • Repetitive Strain Injuries caused by monotonous
  • and
  • Low back pain caused by heavy lifting.

1980 1990 continued
  • A successful story concerning collaboration
    between the textile workers union and the
  • The union discovered many cases of chronic
    shoulder-neck pain amongst the sewing women.
  • The union referred the members to the clinic of
    occupational medicine.

1980 1990 continued
  • A research project was set up It showed that the
    risk of getting chronic shoulder-neck pain among
    the sewing women was very high, much higher than
    among other comparable women workers.
  • The union succeeded in getting compensation for
    the women and the disease is now figuring on the
    Danish list of recognized occupational diseases.

1980 - 1990
  • During this period occupational health services
    were made mandatory in many branches on the
    labour market.
  • Workers representatives constituted half of the
    delegates of the directory boards on these
  • In this way the unions got a great deal of
    influence on preventive activities in the

1990 - 2000
  • New changes in the structure of the labour
    market Many jobs were exported to low wage
  • Big parts of the Danish textile industry
  • Big parts of the assembly industry were exported.
  • The question is if the OHS problems in these
    industries are exported with them?

1990 - 2000
  • New OHS problems arise because of changes in the
    labour market structure
  • Lean/mean production is the mantra and companies
    compete on time schedules - fewer employed run
    faster than ever.
  • The result is stress, mental disorders,
    depressions and burnout.

1970 - 2000
  • Some European perspectives
  • The 1970ies activist groups working with OHS
    problems met in Strasbourg to give advise to left
    wing parties from the European Parliament.
  • The activist groups decided to make their own
    European network The European Work Hazards
    Network EWHN.

1970 2000 continued
  • European perspectives
  • EWHN has held conferences every second year in
    different European countries The idea is to
    gather safety representatives and their
    professional advisers in workshops on specific
    OHS problems like asbestos related diseases,
    stress at the work place, repetitive strain
    injuries, etc.

2006 -
  • On European level
  • Growing trade union collaboration concerning
    health and safety, this conference being part of
  • Regression on many national levels Deregulation
    in the working environment, the Danish
    Occupational Health Services are no longer
    mandatory, the Labour Inspection has no tools to
    fight the new OHS problems like lean production
    and stress.

2006 -
  • On the activist level the conferences continue
    At this very place we have the next EWHN
    conference over this week-end and I welcome the
    many of you who have decided to participate in it.
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