Sunday 11 December 2016

Rise of zero hour contracts and highly variable hours 'puts workers at more risk of illness and injury'

Published 14/05/2015 | 12:00

Some of the Dunnes Stores' workers protesting.
Some of the Dunnes Stores' workers protesting.

THE rise of zero hours contracts and highly variable working hours put workers more at risk of illness and injury.

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Workers were less likely to get ill or injured during the recession than the boom, but as the economy recovers, so will the risks, a new Economic and Social Research Institute report has found.

It said that the difference in work-related health problems between boom and bust may be down to a lower turnover of staff as well as worker reluctance to take sick days during a time of job insecurity.

Recently thousands of Dunnes Stores workers went on strike over zero hour contracts.

And It warns that long hours and highly variable shifts put workers more at risk.

“The injury and health risks associated with highly variable work hours are of concern given the emergence of zero hours and minimum hours contracts,” the ESRI said.

Some 47,000 workers were injured a year on average between 2001 and 2012, while 48,000 suffered from a work-related illness.

The risk of both  injury and illness rose in the boom period between 2001 and 2007 and fell during the recession from 2008 to 2012.

A similar result was also found in the UK and UK and has been attributed to a rise in the numbers of inexperienced new recruits during economic growth along with increases in work intensity and hours.

Studies also suggested “that during a period of recession workers may be more reluctant  to report injuries  or to take time off work for illness when they are insecure about their jobs”..

Younger workers had the highest risk of injury as this declined with age, while men were much more at risk of injury than women even when they worked in the same types of job and hours.

The study found there was no gender difference in work-related illness during the economic boom but in the recession women were significantly more at risk of illness.

Injury and illness varied substantially in different sectors, with those working in construction, agriculture, health and industry most at risk of injury.

Workers in agriculture,  building, transport and health were most at risk of illness.

“Shift workers and those working at night had a significantly higher risk of work-related injury and illness, even compared to others working in the same sector and broad occupation” the report found.

Those in their job for less than a year were four times more likely to suffer an injury than those working there five years or more.

On average  47 people a year lost their lives at work between 2004 and 2013.

And the risk of fatal injury was 24 times higher for those working in agriculture than for workers in the service sector.

Ireland had the highest agricultural fatality rate of nine EU countries where data was available.

The ESRI said that investment in training and monitoring of new recruits was likely to contribute to a fall in workplace injuries given the link between job tenure and injuries.

It warned that as shift workers and night workers were more vulnerable, they would benefit from targeted prevention strategies and information on risks.

Annual inspections were also found to be associated with lower levels of injury and ill health showing that state regulation was important for ensuring healthy working environments.

Report co-author Helen Russell said: “The business-cycle finding suggests that without additional efforts to prevent injuries and illness, from both employers and the state, the rates of work-related injury and illness are likely to increase with economic recovery.”

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