ISSUE 43 - Page 7

H & S strike, law in Italy after more disasters
ITALY”S POOR RECORD ON HEALTH AND SAFETY was again highlighted by a recent accident, although this time both government and unions seem to be in a mood to remedy matters. After six workers were killed in a water purification tank in Sicily, adding to those burned to death in a steel mill in Turin and crushed at a transport depot at Bergamo last year, a nationwide strike of metalworkers was called for June 17th. One of the aims of the strike was to prevent employers watering down a new law brought in by the outgoing government of Romano Prodi. The legislation will increase inspection, simplify administration and promote consultation between the social partners. It will also recruit local health and safety reps. to cover small businesses, exclude firms which break safety laws from public contracts and give inspectors the right to immediately suspend work.  All companies will have to submit a risk assessment within three months of the law coming into effect. Any infringement of these provisions will result in severe financial penalties and this is one of the employers’ complaints. The Confindustria confederation argues that the sanctions are excessive. Its director general, Maurizio Beretta, stated that: ‘Italian companies invest €12 billion a year to improve health and safety. We should all do more, but sanctions alone cannot solve this delicate and complex problem’. It is thought that the new centre-right Berlusconi administration will be sympathetic and has already promised to reopen negotiations.
By contrast trade unions want all of the new law to be implemented as they believe that the official figures showing 1,350 fatalities per year and 1 million workplace accidents are an underestimate. They point to the prevalence of illegal migrant employment uncovered by a recent inspection blitz which resulted in 36,000 undeclared employees gaining a proper contract. One of the reasons that inspectors can use to close down a company is a workforce containing more than 20% of illegal workers.

Nanotechnology can create jobs but precautions needed
ALTHOUGH THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RECENTLY rejected special measures to deal with products made with the emerging nanotechnology (see our last issue) both the EU Commission and the ETUC  have their eye on their health and safety aspects.  The Commission has started a ‘public dialogue’ by noting the huge potential of the scientific advance which manipulates materials at the atomic level. They say that 10 million jobs could be created by 2014 to service a market worth between €750 and €2000 billion. While energy efficiency, computer memories, pharmaceuticals and medical procedures  could all benefit, the Commissioners stress that public knowledge of the technology must be increased in the EU and a precautionary principle must apply to  protect health, the environment and workers’ safety.
This accords with the view of the European Trade Union Confederation who made it the key demand of a recent resolution. They stress that REACH, the newly implemented  directive
Carbon Nanotube controlling the use of chemicals, must apply to their nanometre forms, even if they would otherwise be exempt as less than one tonne per year is imported or manufactured. The ETUC wants the ‘no data, no market’ principle to apply. They say that workers and unions must be involved in the assessment and reduction of nanomaterial-related risks, worker information, training and health monitoring must be improved where they may be exposed to products containing nanos and safety data sheets must state whether nanomaterials are present.
 Medical opinion would seem to support this approach with parallels being drawn with the asbestos disaster. Indeed an editorial in medical journal Lancet Oncology comments that carbon nanotubes have a similar structure to asbestos and have also been found to cause mesotheloma in mice: ‘our physical and chemical knowledge of these molecules exceeds our biological understanding of their effects’.
Looking down a model carbon nanotube

New EU safety law REACHes out to USA Explosion rocks Ukraine mine again
THE EUROPEAN CHEMICALS AGENCY (ECHA) began its work in June. Its task is to implement the new regulations on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals or REACH. The Helsinki-based organisation will be required to receive registrations for about 30,000 substances which are used in quantities of greater than one tonne annually. The ETUC is planning to draw on its network of unions and reps. to distribute its own information on the new law of which, it says, many employers are ignorant.
However the effects of the legislation are also likely to be felt far beyond EU borders. Already manufacturers in the USA are looking at the composition of substances that they use. Although American regulations are much laxer than REACH, requiring the authorities to prove that a chemical is harmful before it can be restricted, companies do not want to lose access to a market of nearly 500 million people. DuPont is to register about 500 substances including 20-30 expected to make the  list of substances of ‘very high concern’ created by the European legislation. It is quite likely that other US firms are using such substances as the US Environmental Protection Agency has only banned 5 chemicals since 1976! Even if they are authorised in the EU consumers could shun them as experience with, for instance, lead in toys and phthalates in baby rings has shown parental anxiety trumping corporate lobbying. Instead companies may fiind it easier to to substitute: ‘We're not looking at this as a European program - we're buying and selling all over the globe’ commented a vice president of DuPont.
A SERIES OF ACCIDENTS HAVE occurred in coal mines in the Ukraine over recent years (see issue 41). Yet another disaster took place in June when 37 miners were trapped after a blast at the Karl Marx pit at Yenakiyevo. Despite the suspension of mining in the area after 11 fatalities in May it is believed that the  workers were digging for coal rather than carrying out safety measures as first thought. President Yuschenko branded the government ‘irresponsible’ in its approach to the industry.
Ukraine mine blast
Surface damage from the blast at the Ukrainian mine

Car ads to follow cigarette warnings

THE EU COMMISSION, DISAPPOINTED by the failure of voluntary guidelines, is considering new rules on car advertising which would guarantee a prominent position for environmental information. At the moment ads typically relegate fuel economy and carbon dioxide emission figures to barely legible print. Based on cigarette health warnings, there would be a 20% of total space rule in print adverts and/or a ‘traffic light’ system to rank vehicles by pollution. A two-month consultation period is now in full swing with loud protests from print media bodies, who fear for their vital revenue from car ads, and German manufacturers who produce the biggest models with the highest emissions. They are supported by Commissioner for Industry, Gunter Verheugen: ‘This is enough now. Fingers off advertising! Advertising belongs to the free-market’ he said. However the Commission as a whole is ‘committed to [ensuring] that consumers have sufficient information to choose fuel-efficient and low-emitting cars’.

First 2-year campaign is on risk assessment
FOR THE FIRST TIME THE European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has devoted two years of campaigning to a particular topic. Replacing the usual, annual event which culminates in the European Safety Week in October, Healthy Workplaces. Good for you. Good for business will stress the value of risk assessment and concentrate on construction, healthcare agriculture and small businesses (SMEs).
According to EU-OSHA director Jukka Takala ‘risk assessment is not necessarily complicated, bureaucratic or a task only for experts. This is a mistaken belief that is particularly common among SMEs’. The campaign is part of the EU Strategy for Health and Safety at Work which aims to reduce accidents at work by 25% by 2012, particularly in the high-risk sectors.
As well as the health of workers, the campaign will seek to communicate the business benefits of risk assessment in reducing absenteeism and insurance costs and raising employee motivation and productivity. ‘Every year, millions of workers in the EU are involved in accidents which force them to stay at home for at least three working days at an enormous cost to the economy. Risk assessment is the key to reducing these figures’, said EU Commissioner for Employment Vladimir Špidla ‘But it can only be the first step - implementation must follow’.

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