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ISSUE 52 page 7

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Union reps. urged to REACH out for chemical safety

IT WAS A LONG AND COMPLICATED process to get the new EU chemical safety laws REACH on to the statute book and their implementation is unlikely to be any less involved. There are various deadlines for registering substances, drawing up lists of particularly dangerous ones and either authorising or banning their use. However by the end of this year chemicals used in quantities of more 1,000 tonnes a year must be registered and labelling and packaging must conform to its own new directive. The European trade union movement feels that union representatives are well placed to make sure that companies are aware of, and discharge, their duties under the REACH laws. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Chemical Workers’ Federation (EMCEF) are launching a campaign which aims to use their networks of thousands of reps. to alert firms. Although the legislation was brought in to protect the public and the environment, the union organisations believe that, as well as enforcement being good for health and safety at the workplace, failure to comply with REACH could imperil chemical production and their members’ jobs. Dr. Tony Musu of the ETUC’s health and safety arm says ‘We really want to target with our campaign those small and medium-sized companies which may not have an agreed culture of health and safety but most often have at least a workers representative … every year, 74 000 workers die in Europe because of the  use of hazardous chemicals at the workplace. We really believe that REACH will improve the situation’. Geert Dancet, who heads the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) responsible for administering the legislation commented ‘We very much welcome this initiative from the ETUC … and we are grateful to trades unionists for their help in spreading the word’.
Meanwhile the ECHA continues to compile a list of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) and here there is less harmony. These include those known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or harmful to reproduction or persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic. These chemicals must be individually authorised by the ECHA before use. Only 38 have been identified as candidates for the list and none have been placed on it in the two years since the agency was set up. The ETUC regards this as painfully slow progress: ‘At that pace, it will take more than 100 years to tackle all substances of very high concern currently present in our workplaces and our environment’, and has published its own priority list of 568 substances. Even these are only the most urgent of the 900 that meet the criteria for being a SVHC, it says.

Maintenance theme for Euro H & S week
Turkish workers denied compensation after ban on sandblasting jeans

The annual European Health and Safety Week will take place between 25th and 29th October with the theme of maintenance work. It will form the centrepiece of a two-year campaign by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), the second to be extended beyond twelve months, which aims to reduce the number of accidents caused by maintenance-related factors, estimated to be 20% of the total at the moment. Not only poorly carried out repair and replacement procedures but the avoidance of any maintenance by an employer can endanger workers. Campaign activities will include conferences, seminars, training sessions and inspections and partner companies such as Pirelli and Toyota will promote good practice.


OSHA Director Takala, Commissioner Andor & friend launch the campaign

EVER LUSTED AFTER THAT ARTFULLY DISTRESSED pair of jeans? The technique which gives them that worn appearance also wears out the clothing workers. Sandblasting has been found to cause silicosis, the most common occupational lung disease, fatal if not caught early. Turkey, with its large textile sector, banned the practice in 2008 but it is thought that there is still an underground industry in the country employing immigrants from Georgia. Although multinational companies such as Levi’s and H & M say they will not use them, there are still many sub-contractors in Egypt, Pakistan and Syria where denim workers ’sandblast between 2,000 and 3,000 items of clothing a day over twelve hours’ according to Professor Zeki Kılıçaslan, a chest physician at Istanbul University.
In Turkey, however, the sub-contractors have disappeared leaving over a thousand workers already diagnosed with silicosis with no-one to sue as the main brands accept no liability. State benefits are also unobtainable as former sandblaster Abdulhalim Demir relates ' An audit certificate is needed to prove that you have been exposed to this disease at work, which means an inspector must contact the subcontractor who employed the worker’.

Text Box: A denim blaster at work







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