NEWS

Accidents keep happening in Thriasio factories

Children aged 13-17 comprise 7 percent of the work force in the Thriasio plain’s industrial zone, southwest of Athens, and according to a survey recently completed, they have been increasingly falling victim to injuries, eye injuries in particular, over the past five years. In the five-year period previous to 1996, the incidence of such accidents had fallen by 70 percent among adults and 88 percent among children. Since then, however, it has increased by 206 percent among adults and 840 percent among children. Other types of injuries, particularly those requiring surgery, are also on the increase among the 53 industries’ 15,600 workers, 1,100 of whom are children. In Greece, unfortunately, the precise extent of industrial accidents is unknown, according to an article in the latest issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace. The Social Security Foundation (IKA) keeps records of accidents, but IKA covers only 46 percent of the workforce. The Labor Ministry has not released any figures since 1994, and data for the years before that are incomplete. The survey, carried out at the initiative of ophthalmologist Michalis Angelou, of IKA’s Elefsina branch, and Kyriakos Souliotis, a scientific associate of the National School of Public Health, highlighted the absence of any real protective measures, particularly regarding child workers. They collected data from 53 industries including the refineries, steelworks, ship- repair yards, glass and paint manufacturers, tanneries, chemicals and gas bottling factories, among others, from which workers sought medical attention at local IKA branches. The increasing percentage of industrial workers among those who visit our surgeries, said Angelou, was the reason we decided to carry out the study. About 20 percent of the cases treated at the ophthalomology clinic were the result of accidents, either at work or in the home. Of these, 10 percent were child workers aged 13 to 17. Most were Greeks, followed by Albanians and other nationalities. Most of the child workers in the area are legally employed, he said. There were a total of 2,021 eye injuries between 1991 and the end of 2000, among the 14,500 adult and 1,100 child workers in the industrial zone. Of these, 226 were sustained by children. Industrial accidents have been increasing steadily since 1996 (when there were 121 accidents, compared to 72 the previous year) and chiefly take the form of internal injuries, followed by chemical burns. Last year there were 403 such accidents. The main factors involved in the frequency of industrial accidents in Greece, said Souliotis, is the poor standard of organization in the workplace, the unsuitability of premises, the lack of real safety measures, inadequate information, the prevalence of unskilled workers in skilled jobs and the lack of supervision. It was only in 1985 that a law (No. 1568) was passed on the organization of health and safety in the workplace, providing for a safety technician and doctor in factories, setting out criteria for job descriptions, preventing risks from machinery, protecting workers from natural, chemical and biological factors, as well as determining employers’ responsibilities and obligations. He added, however, that although the problem has become more acute since then, no real steps have been taken, particularly regarding the prevention of accidents. The only measures taken in this direction have been in the form of compensation paid to injured workers and sick pay, which is a greater cost in economic terms – apart from the effects on the injured workers themselves and their families – than the adoption of a policy aimed at preventing accidents, he said. Souliotis said that in most European countries, protecting workers’ health has become a major issue in the production process. Success means no accidents is the slogan of the European Organization for Health and Safety at Work this year. For Greece, a top priority must be an investigation into the causes of accidents, without which there can be neither preventive measures nor corrective steps, particularly given the large number of child employees, who are twice as susceptible to work accidents as adults. Europe: 4.5 million cases a year About 4.5 million work-related accidents, requiring an absence of more than three days’ sick leave, are recorded every year in European Union member countries, according to the European Organization for Safety and Health at Work. Of these, 5,500 prove to be fatal. The immediate cost in compensation payments is in the order of 200 billion euros, while 146 million working days are lost every year. Most accidents are the result of falls, being hit by falling objects or injuries sustained while moving objects. Most fatalities are due to falls and vehicle accidents. The organization believes that these accidents can be prevented, but emphasized the importance of observing laws on protecting people from work hazards. The reasons for imposing these laws are not moral but economic, they claim, since companies with the fewest accidents are also the most viable. The Third Community Support Framework has funded museums to the tune of 160 billion drachmas and laid aside 167 billion drachmas for monuments and archaeological sites. The new museums will get the lion’s share of the 160 billion drachmas, including those of the Acropolis, the City of Athens, Patras, Larissa, Aegina, Pella, Samos, Arta, Messara, Sparta, Halkida, the Didymoteichos Byzantine Museum, and the Piraeus building of the Benaki Museum. Buildings such as the Fix Factory in Athens and Hymofix in Sparta which have acquired new uses will also have a share.