Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Posts Tagged ‘Health and safety

COSMOS officially launched in UK

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COSMOS, a major five-country European study into the long-term effects of mobile phone usage, was launched in the UK yesterday. Over the course of the next two weeks, some 2.4m people in the UK will be invited to take part in the initial stages of the study, via an online questionnaire. The other participant countries are Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.

The commencement of the research in the UK is the responsibility of the UK’s Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, itself set up following the publication of the Stewart Report into mobile phone use in May 2000. The Stewart Report concluded that, while exposure to radiofrequency emissions from handsets and mobile base stations at levels below the existing guidelines do not cause adverse health effects to the general population, there was a need for a ‘substantial research programme’ into the isses.

The most recent MTHR report, published in 2007 (full report; press release), found no association between short-term mobile phone use and brain cancer, or evidence that brain function was affected either by mobile phone signals or by TETRA (high speed, high frequency communications networks used by the emergency services), and reported that there was no need for further research in this area. However, the report did acknowledge that there were ‘significant uncertainties’ as regards more long-term exposure, since available studies were based on very few people who had used their phones for ten years or more, and that these could ‘only be resolved by monitoring the health of a large cohort of phone users over a long period of time’. At the same time, cancers rarely show up as quickly as within ten years.

Consequently, the COSMOS research is a part of progressing this aim via a 20-30 year study of the mobile phone usage and health of 200,000 adults across Europe, 90,000 of which will be selected from network operator subscriber lists in the UK, for which funding has so far been made available for the first five years (£3.1m).  The study will focus on the risk of cancers, benign tumors and neurological and cerebro-vascular diseases, as well as changes in the occurrence of specific symptoms over time, such as headache and sleep disorders.

The number of mobile phones has increased dramatically in the decade since the Stewart report: then, there were 25m phones in operation (a market penetration rate of about 40%) while currently, according to Ofcom, there are 76.8m mobile phone subscriptions (a total of 1.26 connections per UK inhabitant) (Figure 4.42). Despite the increasing use of smartphones and mobile handsets in general as devices for a range of uses other than talking to people, mobile volume call minutes continue to grow sharply, as the following figure shows:

Source: Ofcom Communications Market Report 2009, Figure 4.71

At current levels of usage, we spend one day per year (24 hours), for each connection that exists, calling someone on a mobile phone. Given the penetration rate in the UK, each one of us actually spends more than 30 hours a year talking on the mobile. These levels of usage are unlikely to drop – smartphones add functionality without replacing the existing, and evidently expanding, need to call people on the hoof.

The study will thus make an essential contribution to filling important gaps in our knowledge about the effects of mobile phone usage in the long-term. As the COSMOS researchers say, there is no evidence that mobiles present any dangers to health – but we don’t know that they don’t. An initial report is expected in 2020 – perhaps an auspicious date for generating a vision as to what the overall conclusions at the end of the project might conceivably look like.


Written by Calvin

23/04/2010 at 2:06 pm

‘Radical change’ called for in France Telecom

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An interim report commissioned by France Telecom is reported to have said that the company has only ‘a few weeks’ to put new HR practices in place following the recent spate of suicides in the company. The report advises the new management team at the company, which took place at the start of March, of the need to ‘take charge and encourage radical change’ at the company if it is to recover its former status.

The report, which does not yet appear to have been leaked in full but which has been confirmed as authentic, has been seen by French and international newspapers. It has been commissioned from an organisation called Technologia whose motto is ‘Health and safety at the heart of decision-making’. In reaching an agreement with most of its trade unions last November, now ratified, France Telecom has already sought to put an end to some of the practices which had been believed to have led to the rise in the number of suicides, which now number 43 since January 2008 and including at least eight since the start of 2010. Nevertheless, the Technologia report, based on a series of 500 interviews with France Telecom employees, makes a series of 107 recommendations to address the crisis, calling in particular on the company to:

Implement a moratorium on reorganizations, closely monitor psychosocial risk factors and create an internal network of mediators to make the personnel department more accessible

– and all on the basis that ‘actions [need to] accompany all the talk‘. The report also calls on the company to institute a network of mediators, 30% external and 70% from inside France Telecom, whose role would be to listen to employees in difficulty and to play a ‘real role of arbitration’, and to undertake mobility moves only where the usefulness of such a move had been tested to the limits and where the employee concerned was provided with a supporting mentor.

The Technologia report is now being discussed with the unions representing France Telecom employees.

Further, it also emerged at the weekend that the Labour Inspectorate has lodged with the Paris prosecutor’s office an 82-page report condemning practices at the company as bullying behaviour likely to endanger the lives of others in the workplace, and which it believed to have stemmed from decisions taken at the highest level of the group.

Both the Technologia report and the Labour Inspectorate one are clearly critical of the approach of the company’s senior management and provide the trade unions with significant additional power in their continuing battle with France Telecom over its reorganisation. Technologia’s page on psycho-social hazards speaks of its role in terms of ‘the resumption of dialogue and building a relationship of trust between the social partners’; that’s likely to be a mighty hard row to hoe in France Telecom, but an approach rooted in the dignity of labour, and which actively promotes the needs of employees, not least in a mental health setting, in corporate restructuring situations has a lot to commend itself.

Written by Calvin

15/03/2010 at 12:08 pm

France Telecom agreement on staff mobility?

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La Tribune, France’s business newspaper, has reported that France Telecom has signed an agreement on Thursday last week with four trade unions on its package of measures to deal with the work mobility pressures that have led to a spate of suicides amongst managerial grades in the company.

Trade union websites (e.g. CFTD, CGT and CFE-CGC) are as yet silent on the agreement and at least one – Federation Sud – has apparently refused to sign the agreement [registration required; limited viewing time] on the grounds that it doesn’t go far enough to restore employee confidence.

The report in La Tribune states that the agreement will establish a system of part-time working, without loss, for those three years from retirement including pay at up to 80% of the previous level. Some 14,000 people are eligible for the measure and, on the basis of an assumed take-up by 11,000 workers, will cost c. €700m (not the €1bn earlier reported). Measures also envisaged under the agreement include the setting up of career orientation interviews for employees aged 45 and over and guaranteeing access to training for employees in the same age group. On this morning’s Radio Classique, Stephane Richard, no. 2 at the company, is reported to have confirmed that next year, albeit without definitely ending the practice of mobility, it would not have the mobility scheme that has previously existed; that there would be no forced moves for anyone within three years of retirement; and that mobility would in the future be voluntary. In short: ‘C’est bien un nouveau France Télécom que nous voulons’ (‘It’s a new FT that we’re looking for’).

Looks like the close of a chapter which the French unions and workers in solidarity have done well to pursue. If indeed an agreement has been signed, it’s to be hoped that this ends the tragic spate of suicides in France Telecom which have occurred over the past twenty months.

Written by Calvin

30/11/2009 at 2:23 pm

Harassment and violence at work

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The TUC has joined with employer organisations in launching guidelines on the prevention of harassment and violence at work, implementing in the UK a framework agreement between the social partners signed at EU level in 2007. The guidance, aimed at both employers and workers, and which can be accessed via a specific website on Preventing Harassment at Work, has also been endorsed by BIS, ACAS and the HSE.

The guidance outlines that any form of harassment and violence against workers, whether committed by other employees, managers or third parties, is unacceptable and proceeds by identifying that tolerance, diversity, dignity and respect are benchmarks of success. It sets out employers’ legal obligations in this area but also encourages employers and unions to agree on the basis of a social dialogue how to tackle the range of problems of harassment and violence in the workplace.

Most large employers, and unionised workplaces in general, are likely to have policies already in place – and certainly to be more highly aware of the issue, although the specific agreements that the guidelines seek to promote may be less common. Even so, outside such workplaces, the guidelines will have found an all too  ready home: four employees die from violence at work every year in the UK and three people a day suffer major injuries.

Hat-tip:  TUC press release on the issue

Written by Calvin

19/11/2009 at 5:21 pm

NICE report on mental health at work

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The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, an independent organisation providing national guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health, has today produced a new public health guidance note for the Department of Health on Promoting mental wellbeing through productive and healthy working conditions.

Starting from the presumption that work has an important role in employees’ mental wellbeing, but that it can also have negative effects on health, particularly in the form of stress, the guidance includes a very useful paragraph summarising the issues in and around the workplace that pose risks to mental health at work:

Working environments that pose risks for mental wellbeing put high demands on a person without giving them sufficient control and support to manage those demands. A perceived imbalance between the effort required and the rewards of the job can lead to stress. A sense of injustice and unfairness arising from management processes or personal relationships can also increase stress and risks to mental health.

The guidance note is aimed at all those who have ‘a direct or indirect role in, and responsibility for, promoting mental wellbeing at work’ and includes a series of four recommendations, as well as an appeal to primary care trusts, primary care services and occupational health services to provide support for employees and employers in micro, small and medium-sized businesses. The major recommendations intended to assist employers, employees and trade unions to protect the mental health of employees at work are:

– take a strategic and co-ordinated approach to promoting employees’ mental wellbeing

– assess opportunities for promoting employees’ mental wellbeing and managing risks

– provide employees with opportunities for flexible working

– strengthen the role of line managers in promoting the mental wellbeing of employees through supportive leadership style and management practices.

There is little that is new about any of these – good organisations should already have an eye on employees wellbeing and many, in conjunction with their trade unions, do actively promote employees’ mental health. The advice is complementary to the advice and standards on stress that already exists, including from the Health and Safety Executive, and it is a useful addition to the armoury of tools that exists in this area, not least in providing detailed references to other related guidance.

Nevertheless, the timing of the publication is key: in a continuing recession, with rising unemployment and concerns over job security, and when employees are under even greater pressure to cover for redundant colleagues, the guidance is a timely reminder of the costs of poor mental health which can be associated with organisational responses to recession and of the duty of all to safeguard against the worst effect of economic crisis in the workplace.

Written by Calvin

05/11/2009 at 2:21 pm

Labour photo of the year

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LabourStart has been running a photo competition to nominate the 2009 labour photo of the year and, some 3,200 votes (and, so far, more than three times as many views) later, the winner has been announced.

You can also still view the other photos nominated here.

A good competition – and a very worthy winner: it’s a photo that challenges.

Written by Calvin

03/11/2009 at 1:14 pm

France Telecom establishes €1bn staff help fund

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This morning’s Financial Times is reporting that France Telecom, under intense pressure from workers following a series of work-related suicides amongst its managerial and professional staff, is in the process of establishing a €1bn fund to provide some support to workers towards the end of their careers.

Negotiations on the programme with the company’s trade unions are apparently not yet concluded (and the union websites are as yet silent), but the purpose of the fund seems to be to allow workers aged 57  – the group most affected by the company’s restructuring and the currently-suspended system of compulsory job moves every three years – to move to part-time working while maintaining pay. It needs to be stated that not all those who have committed suicide in the past period (or who have sought to do so) are, however, in this age group.

The size of the fund is not fixed at €1bn but, according to the report, the company has acknowledged that a sum of that magnitude is its ‘working hypothesis’ and would depend on the final precise terms of the scheme and the eventual take-up.

The news was broken as the item appeared in a briefing on the company’s third quarter results – the analyst materials for which do refer to as yet incomplete negotiations on a new social contract, part of which encompasses talks on psychological risks and the programme of part-time work for seniors (see slide 17 of slide pack).

A full conclusion needs to wait for the outcome of the negotiations with the unions but, for now, it does demonstrate what workers acting together can achieve in the context of social dialogue.

Hat-tip: Martin Silman, Executive Director Industry Analyst Relations at AT&T.

Written by Calvin

30/10/2009 at 4:00 pm