International stress

The International Dimension

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Work-related stress is a problem of the developed industrial world.

Over the last few years the Network has been contacted by stress sufferers from the U.S.A, Canada, Japan and Australasia. The issues raised are similar to those previously mentioned and the common theme of workplace attitudes and climates is readily apparent.

There have been some inquiries from workers in the developing world which seems to indicate an insidious effect of globalisation spreading unsatisfactory working practices in the name of profit. We have been aware for some time of the way in which we export our health and safety problems to the third world while at the same time congratulating ourselves on the reduction of our own problems, we seem to close our eyes to the horrors in other countries.

There is a need for a world wide campaign to ensure workers safety in every country and we would happily become part of such a movement.

Through our contacts in European Hazards movement and by working in the European Conferences we have established useful links with workers suffering from and tackling these issues in Europe.

The European Union estimates that work-related stress affects at least 40 million workers in its 15 Member States and that it costs the European Union at least 20 billion Euros annually.

A major study of stress by the International Labour Organisation, SafeWork, gives a significant international focus on the subject. This includes details of ILO action in the field of workplace stress.

During the 1990's the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions compiled a report from regular studies of workers across the EU, that many workers complain of work-stress. Their complaints focused on:

  • intensification of demand on workers
  • irregularity of work hours (especially for shift workers)
  • increased demands and low autonomy
  • higher work speed and increased time pressures
  • demands of the job and
  • repetitive tasks.

All were found to be high stressors in the workplace. Cross-border comparisons of the levels of work stress and the amount of impact that it has in various nations made interesting reading:

Stress Factor EU UK
High Speed 50% 54%
Tight Deadlines 75% 56%
Rhythms induced by demand 78% 67%
Inability to change speed 20% 28%
Inability to change work method 27% 28%
Inability to change task 27% 35%
Violence 7% 4%
Intimidation 16% 8%
Stress 27% 28%
Working at very high speed 25% 25% (38% in NL!)


The EFLWC investigation also looked at preventative measures, including:

  • workplace design;
  • worker participation;
  • ergonomic improvements of work and workstation;
  • holistic approach to working environment;
  • the organisational culture;
  • workers' special needs;
  • evaluation and monitoring;
  • economic feasibility.

A more recent report: "work-related Stress" was published in 2005. Its focus is on France, Germany, the Benelux countries, three Scandinavian nations and Spain. The study gives a historic picture of previous investigations of work-stress factors. It reveals that high risk groups include workers in Education, Health Services, Public Administration, Banking, Freight Transport, the Hospitality Industry and Policing, but at differing levels in different nations. The study also outlines interventions and preventative actions by employers.

In conclusion, the study confirms that stress at work risks have been increasing year on year, but that high pace work seems to be levelling off.

The conclusions note that:

  • in many nations there has been a combination of increasing and stabilizing job demands, together with job autonomy, which will have resulted in higher levels in those nations;
  • demands over and above day to day quantitative demands, appear to be significant;
  • some nations showed increases in stress-related health problems at work, but it was noted that many workers who have developed psychological problems health problems have left on long-term absence or were in receipt of disability pensions;
  • costs of stress-related illness were high.

Two other useful publications from the EFWLC include a study on managing the risk of work-related stress and a framework agreement on work-related stress

The European Industrial Relations Observatory On-Line has published a comparative study of work-related stress as an issue in industrial relations in the EU. Member States and Norway. National papers refer to local experience, including in the UK. It carries out periodical stress surveys, the latest being in 2015

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