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ISSUE 68 page 7

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Health & Safety
Focus on carbon tubes as health & safety agencies warn on nanos
RECENT ANNOUNCEMENTS BY BOTH THE FRENCH ANSES health and safety agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have focused on nanomaterials particularly carbon nanotubes. Nanomaterials are defined by their size which may be as small as one billionth of a metre; though naturally occurring in some leaves and birds as well as a result of volcanic action, they have been commercially manufactured for about ten years. Now present in items such as printing inks and toners, socks and refrigerators, bicycle frames and tennis racquets, their microscopic scale endows them with unusual properties of strength and electrical conductivity which are not found in the same substances at normal size. However their ability to cross natural boundaries can increase their absorption by the skin, lungs and digestive tract posing possible health and safety hazards for workers.
NanoChart
The response of the authorities to this new threat has been criticised by agencies and trade unions (see issue 61) as failing to discriminate between nanos and their ordinary, larger versions. This is complicated by the lack of scientific studies specifically addressing nanomaterials; sometimes it is even unclear whether a specific substance contains nanos or not. IARC draws attention to an experiment in rats and mice who were injected with carbon nanotubes and developed mesothelioma, usually associated with asbestos. The lack of studies in humans however has led the agencies to call for new research and, in the meantime,  for strengthened regulation such as adapting the EU’s REACH programme to take into account the properties of nanomaterials and to make it easier to  trace them.

THE NANOSCALE: One nanometre (nm) is equal to one-billionth of a metre

 

 

ETUC: business experts blocking EU green laws

FOLLOWING THE MYSTERIOUS NON-APPEARANCE of an EU policy on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, suspicion is falling on business lobbying groups with regard to a wide range of environmental proposals that have fallen by the wayside. Laws to curb illegal timber imports, raise energy efficiency targets and regulate shale gas companies have also been killed off while the existing Fuel Quality directive is likely to be scrapped. Sources from inside the European Commission said that  President ‘Barroso’s general attitude was that environmental stuff doesn’t matter’. The official blamed the U.S.A. while Green MEP Claude Turmes quoted a desire ‘to please the British’ but the Commission insists that its hands are tied by the most conservative Member States.
Trade unions and pro-transparency campaigners point the finger at the expert groups which advise EU officials on new policies. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), UNI Global Union, and Corporate Europe Observatory say that these committees are dominated by company lobbyists who form more than half of some groups. The European parliament unfroze funds for the expert committees in 2012 on condition that no one interest would predominate. The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, has launched an investigation into their composition. She said groups needed ‘to be balanced and to work as transparently as possible’.

New law could ban ‘always-on’ work culture in Germany

MOBILE ‘PHONES, EMAILS AND SOCIAL MEDIA allow your boss to be always at your side but is this good for your health? The new minister for employment in the German government thinks not. Andrea Nahles believes that ‘There is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness’. Following company-level restrictions at Volkswagen (see issue 62) and BMW on contacting employees outside work hours, Ms.Nahles want to go further ‘We need universal and legally binding criteria’ she added. Rising levels of workplace stress, sometimes leading to retirement, are thought to cause 10 million sick days a year in Germany. It is already illegal for an employer to contact staff during holidays. Earlier this year unions and employers in the French consultancy and technology sectors concluded an agreement that prevents work emails and phone calls infringing on ‘rest periods’ as defined by the EU Working Time directive. Michel de La Force, chairman of the General Confederation of Managers, said that "digital working time’ would have to be measured.




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