Trade unions demand standards for manual lifting

Download article in original language : NL9712151NNL.DOC

Recent research in the Netherlands shows that setting a legal standard for the manual lifting of loads would lead to considerable improvements in working conditions for a large group of employees. However, employers' organisations and unions are divided on this subject.

Approximately 1.3 million employees in the Netherlands run the risk of sustaining medical injuries from either lifting loads that are too heavy or lifting incorrectly, according to a recent survey conducted by the Netherlands Economic Institute. The research indicates that setting a legal standard for lifting would lead to improvements in working conditions for 75% of this group, and should result in reducing sickness absence by 280,000 days a year. In addition, up to NLG 88 million could be saved in healthcare costs whilst costing the business community only NLG 11 per employee to comply with this legal standard. The Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) has pointed to the advantages of both the reduced healthcare costs and the creation of a safer and healthier working environment.

The Working Conditions Act came into force in the Netherlands in 1980. The Act contains general provisions which must be translated into more detailed regulations at a lower level. Despite the fact that physical strain causes one of every three employees to become incapable of working, no specific regulations have been formulated in this regard. The only attention devoted to this issue in the Working Conditions Resolution, based on the Working Conditions Act, is a statement that physical strain should be prevented. However, the Resolution says little about how this should be put into practice.

The FNV is currently arguing for a maximum lifting standard of 23 kilograms. The trade unions are in favour of implementing a flexible legal standard which may be deviated from in consultation with the works council. The employers' organisations feel that the Working Conditions Resolution offers sufficient opportunities for this. The subject of lifting may be included in the mandatory risk inventory and evaluation report required by the Working Conditions Act. This requires the employer both to list possible risks to the safety, health and well-being of employees, and to propose measures to deal with them.

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