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|IT APPEARS THAT THE MUCH-DELAYED European Directive on exposure to electro-magnetic radiation fields will soon be passed by both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Originally one of the four physical agents directives agreed in 2004 (see issue 41), the EMF proposal was withdrawn following protests from the health sector about the effect that it would have on the use of MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines which are used on 8 million patients a year in the EU to detect such abnormalities as brain tumours. An interim directive merely postponed the deadline to 2012 and this was subsequently extended to 2013. However progress has now been made: the Council of Ministers has come to an informal agreement on an amended law and Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, parliament's rapporteur, has predicted that the body will adopt the proposals soon. Although she says that the||
||limits on workers’ exposure to EMFs will be tightened up, trade unions are dissatisfied with the lack of research into the long-term effects of the radiation (see issue 57). There is still great uncertainty, according to the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) about the risks of mobile telephones and personal computers as well as MRI machines. Nonetheless as the measure ‘is one of the very few initiatives in the field of health and safety which will be probably adopted under the present Commission’ the unions are likely to accept it while pressing for ‘for new initiatives on the basis of scientific evidence’ says the ETUI’s Laurent Vogel. It is likely that Member States will have another two years to implement the directive once it is passed, a total of eleven years since its introduction.|
Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, MEP and Laurent Vogel, health & safety expert at the ETUI
TRADE UNION HEALTH AND SAFETY EXPERTS have been half-hearted in their welcome for the announcement by the European Commission of a public consultation on a possible ‘new EU occupational safety and health policy framework’. Their first objection is to the continued delay in formulating a new strategy. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says that the European Parliament and the specialist consultative committeee on health and safety have wanted a new framework since 2011 and have come up with several proposals for it. Secondly, they say, the call for contributions is ambiguously worded and does not guarantee the adoption of an official strategy for the period 2013-2020 to replace that for 2007-2012. Lastly some of the questions to be answered by the respondents to the consultation reveal the increasingly neo-liberal stance of the Commission, according to the unions, such as talk of the ‘administrative burden’ on small businesses of complying with legislation.
Hugh Robertson, TUC head of safety, believes that ‘Had the Commission worked with the European employers and unions in 2011 to develop a strategy as was recommended, it could be agreed by now’ while Judith Kirton-Darling of the ETUC asks ‘Where is the response to the deterioration of working conditions and intensification of work? The EU must address these crucial questions urgently’. The consultation runs from 31st. May to 26th. August and is available on the Internet at: http://ec.europa.eu/yourvoice/ipm/forms/dispatch?form=healthandsafety
WORK DONE BY THE European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) into discrimination against women in Belgium’s recognition of occupational diseases (see issue 58) has been taken up by an official body. The Equal Opportunities Council confirmed that only 10% of compensation pay-outs for permanent disability went to female workers. The reasons include a concentration on male-dominated traditional industries in the list of recognised diseases and the exclusion of workers whose careers have been interrupted, as is often the case with women, due to pregnancy and child care. Official figures show that women are less at risk of work health problems than men but external surveys indicate the opposite. Women predominate in ‘face-to-face’ jobs such as in private homes and so are more prone to develop psycho-social and musculo-skeletal disorders. The Council calls on the Belgian government to change the list of occupational diseases and to take the initiative in analysing working conditions in sectors where female labour predominates such as cleaning and health care. A structured plan and annual report should be adopted to this end, it says. The concept of ‘well-being’ at work should be highlighted and gender mainstreaming followed for all health and safety policy.