Work and labour
Work and labour
Work and labour have been around forever, although it did not always work to the standards that we are used to today. Over the years, many hard working and deprived people had to fight for the rights that are taken for granted today. Are safety and health involved with work? Is work dangerous for your health? I will try to answer these questions by summarising four short commentaries as well as adding my opinion.
Through out history, people have put workers in danger and sometimes added elements that they thought were actually helping to protect their workers, but instead were actually adding danger to the workers. There is no better example of this than that of the mining industry. As we know, mining in deep caverns can be very dangerous, but the most damage received was even before you stepped into the mine. "Dust to Dust" by Charlie Angus explains this theory. There is a mining sickness that has taken many lives. It is called Silicosis. "In gold mines, the silica is found in the quartz veins that surround the ore. Disturbed dust attacks and lacerates the lining of the lung with it's jagged, crystalline edges. In the confined spaces underground, a miner has no choice but to breath in large amounts of silica dust. The effects of long term exposure are a litany of elements related to the breathing of this dust: silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease, silica tuberculosis, pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis and corpulminary (right-heart failure)." Dust to Dust. Many people were getting very sick, leaving the mines and some were even dying due to these horrible working conditions and diseases. The mining company came up with, what they thought, was a solution. Before entering the mine the miners were put in a sealed room where they would inhale aluminum dust that was supposed to prevent silicosis. However, this was never medically proven. What they found out was that, not only was it not fully doing its job, but that it might be causing another devastating decease called Alzheimer's. Any one is susceptible to Alzheimer's after being exposed to aluminum for a long time. Imagine if you are inhaling it for fifteen minutes a day. Although at the beginning of this century proper mine ventilation was considered an exorbitant expense, it was now obvious that's what needed to be done even though the owners didn't think so. The workers pulled together and fought for more ventilation and better working conditions. What about the hundreds of miners who died and left families behind? "They were proud women, ashamed to go before the compensation board and ask for a handout. But, unable to keep the family together on the money they earned as seamstresses or housekeepers, they would finally file claims, only to be told that their husband's death was not work related. His rotted lungs and aggravated heart had come not from mining, but from cigarettes and a bad eastern European diet." Dust to Dust.
Not only can work be bad for your physical health but also your mental health. Every year many people suffer depression and some even commit suicide due to workplace stress. "Workplace Stress" by Cathy Walker explains that in the year 1989, after the signing of the free trade agreement, four workers, all from the same General Motors plant in St. Therese, committed suicide within a six month period. The main workplace stresses the article gives are as follows.
" ~ Machine pacing of work-rhythm and machine control of work methods. ~ Monotonous, repetitive work, activates only a limited part of total human capabilities.
~ Lack of possibilities of contact with other people as part of the on-going work.
~ Piece rate and related payment systems.
~ Authoritarian and detailed control of the individual, be it through foreman or impersonal "systems" (e.g., computer-based planning systems)." Workplace Stress.
" Bias in Workers Compensation Board Policies" Workplace Stress.
After years of untreated workplace stress companies have begun to sympathize with, and compensate the workers. There is a problem with the big compensation boards. Many believe that they are bias against blue collar workers, women and maybe racist. Examples of this are episodes where a manager or foreman has experienced stress and has been compensated for being harassed or mistreated by subordinates. But a blue collar worker, experiencing stress due to harassment by a foremen, was turned down by the board. The way companies see themselves is such that stress is more common and likely to happen with white collar workers over the more numerous blue collar workers. Such a thing is very wrong. In fact most cases of people having to leave the job or even committing suicide due to workplace stress are all blue collar workers. There has always been stress in our lives and always will be. Workplace stress is the worst kind over social stress or home stress because at the workplace is where you have the least control. " The only genuine solution to the problem of workplace stress would be to allow workers some control over their lives at the workplace." Workplace Stress.
"Madness at Work, A Call For Compassion", is an article written by Jane Caron. Jane suffers from a very sad illness called manic depression. Jane writes about how she has dealt with her illness and how it has effected her life at home and at the workplace. Her story is a sad one, but true. One of the leading causes of manic depression is workplace stress or losing a job. Jane explains the hard times she went through with her family and at work before her illness was recognized and treated. After twelve years of depression she was back to normal and could get on with her life. She writes that her suffering wasn't over. Now she had a new suffering do deal with. She had to deal with the constant stigma that surrounds mental illness. Jane writes of coworkers being scared of her and being made fun of. "WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE THE REJECTION OF THE MENTALLY ILL IS COMMONPLACE" Madness at Work. She explains it as such that only crazy people have mental illness and it's not for normal people. Well, she goes on to say "I was so-called normal before I got sick and normal afterward". Jane still works and has to deal with the ongoing stigma attached to having a mental illness, but she has started programs through her boss and union to help educate her co-workers so that one day employees with mental illness will be treated no differently then those with other health problems.
Throughout the work force, even today, there are workers working in dangerous conditions. Why is that, when we have all these labour laws and unions that are supposed to protect the workers?
"Workers' Use and Knowledge of the Internal Responsibility System: Limits to Participation in Occupational Health and Safety", is a study by Vivienne Walters and Ted Haines. They compare studies that have already been made with some they make on there own to see just how much the owners are playing by the rules. Do the workers know their rights, and if they do, they say anything when they feel they are being miss treated? They also studied to see just how many people think that their job is bad for their health. Their studies were drawn from six workplaces in a highly industrialized area in southern Ontario. They came up with some very interesting results. 85% felt that their work might harm their health. 57% had already harmed their health or seen someone else experience something. 63% claimed they had missed work due to work related accidents or sickness. These results were shocking but even more so are these. Of all the workers expressing a health and safety concern, 29% did nothing about it. 9% had only discussed it with co-workers and a shocking 41% say they refused to work for health and safety reasons.
This is a quote I found to be preposterous. "An over head hoist fell and hit me. I was off for three months. When I went back it had been put back and fallen again so I refused to work under it. They gave me another job and found someone else to do it. It fell on him. Now someone else works under it." This company is crazy. It should be investigated by the labour board.
So many workers still work in dangerous conditions. Some because they don't know their rights, but most because, even though there are organizations to protect them, they are still afraid of losing their job.
In conclusion, I have summarised four articles and commented on two questions. Is there safety and health at work, and is work dangerous for your health? My answer is NO, not if you know your rights, are not afraid to act on them, and demand the needed control of your work to maintain low stress and safety levels.