Thursday, July 30, 2009

Portuguese Trade Union Job Safety and Health Seminar Sparks Discussions and Demands

by Mike Tolochko

Dr. Mariana Alves Pereira from the University of Lusofona located in Lisbon, Portugal sent a strong message to over 75 transportation union leaders that Vibration Acoustical Disease VAD is a problem that requires their immediate attention. She presented study results from over 20 years of research that impressed Seminar participants. This is a relatively new area of research.

This Seminar, organized by the National Federation of Transport and Communication Unions FECTRANS, was led by its coordinator, Amavel Alves. FECTRANS represents subway [metro], railway, bus and truck drivers. Alves opened the Seminar by stating the need for safe and healthier conditions; the need for more studies and research as part of the European Campaign for a safer transportation system.

The main topics of the Seminar, a Seminar that was in part supported by the European Union organizations in charge of transportation, focused on worker fatigue and ergonomics, i.e., musculo-skeletel diseases.

Pereira spoke at length about the growing dangers of Vibro Acoustic Diseases stemming from Low Frequency Noise. She said that many neurological problems which heretofore have been left undiagnosed, now can be labeled and treated.

Manuela Calado an official with the Portuguese government, and related to the European National Agency, reported on efforts by the government to protect workers. But, she said that, it would take the pressure of the trade unions, like FECTRANS, to get these government agencies to do the right thing.

Dr. Frank Goldsmith, former director of Occupational Health for Local 100, Transport Workers Union from New York City, reported on the study of the Health Status of Urban Mass Transit Workers that was conducted a few years ago by Dr. Steven Markowitz of Queens College, City University of New York. The study covered all 60 job titles of the 38,000 bus and subway transit workers employed by the New York City Transit authority.

That groundbreaking report was the first stage of an in-depth study that will be continued in the near future. Problems such as steel dust in the subways, job stress and ergonomic issues for bus operators, and general issues of occupational exposure to carcinogens and respiratory problems were described.

Goldsmith represents the World Federation of Trade Unions at the United Nations.

In an extensive discussion following these reports, the Portuguese union leaders from all part of Portugal, including Lisbon and Porto from the north, reported on their working conditions and the need for continued strong trade union support and demands at the appropriate government agencies. Bus operators, lorry drivers [over the road truck drivers] and subway workers gave example after example of their working conditions and their strategies to protect their members.

Many of them agreed that vibration and noise issues are present in their places of work. The issue of vibration acoustic disease they said was a new one for them, but they were pleased that it was reported and looked forward to taking the appropriate actions.


Anabela Vogado, the occupational health specialist for FECTRANS, in the afternoon session, reported extensively about the increasing pressure to work longer and longer hours per day and week. This has made worker fatigue a major labor issue. She cited European directives in describing the need for trade union actions.

Vogado's report sparked lengthy comments from many of the Seminar participants.

Jose Manuel Oliveria, President of the Railway workers Union [SNTSF] voiced strong support for all the reports and urged quick action.

At the close of the Seminar Alves, himself a subway train operator said that these reports and comments would NOT be put on the shelf. They will be used to develop plans to be brought to the proper officials for action.

The conference was simultaneously translated into both Portuguese and English.

He said that in the current period of economic and financial crisis, all of these issues are all the more important to address. Sitting back and doing nothing is NOT an option.