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ISSUE 72 page 7

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Health & Safety


France urges speed on Commission as EU publishes opinions on hormone disrupters

SUBSTANCES THAT DISRUPT THE BODY”S HORMONAL OR ENDOCRINE system have been long thought to need regulation, As well as metals like lead and mercury the chemicals, which have adverse effects on the neurological, reproductive and immune systems, are present as plastic-softeners in babies’ dummies and children’s toys, and as flame retardants used in textiles The European Commission seem to have been particularly laggardly in proposing any new law (see issue 68), missing one deadline in December 2013. Now they have at least taken one more step along the road by publishing the results of a public consultation that closed in January. Taking the form of online questionnaires, the Commission received over 27,000 responses. Of these more than 90% came from individuals while the organisations answering included governments, the chemical, electronic, food and medical devices industries, non-governmental organisations, hospitals and health institutions. The purpose of the consultation was to agree on criteria to identify an endocrine-disrupting substance before evaluating the impact of any proposed directive. The opinions themselves were sharply divided: over 95% of the citizen responses were co-ordinated by EDC-Free Europe while the U.S. government bemoaned possible effects on American exports of agricultural goods,  ‘technical regulations on the basis of hazard-based criteria… do not fulfil a legitimate objective as they are not supported by scientific evidence’, it opined.
France, however, takes an opposite view. It advocates a safety-first approach ‘based only on the intrinsic hazards of substances’ with trade considerations firmly in second place.  As well as adverse health effects the French government submission stresses the ‘costs of the negative effects caused by endocrine disruptors can be extremely high and reducing these could have major economic benefits’. France proposes a three-tier hierarchy for endocrine disruptors: verified, presumed, or suspected. The economic impact study will now take place before the Commission makes a final decision on any new regulation.

Euro-committees warn of asbestos ‘time-bomb’


THE EUROPEAN UNION BANNED ASBESTOS in 2005 (see issue 8) but millions of tonnes  of the substance are still present in buildings throughout Europe. Over 80% of schools in the U.K. are believed to contain it and it is also present in ships, trains, machinery, tunnels and pipes. The estimated cost of removal runs to €10-15 billion per Member State. Following a joint conference of the European Federation of Building and Wood Workers (EFBWW) and the employers’ European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC) the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) called on the EU Commission toestablish registers listing the affected buildings and to devise action plans for safe asbestos removal.  The ‘Freeing Europe safely from asbestos’ conference heard that, as the disease caused by exposure to the substance, mesothelioma, can take twenty or thirty years to manifest itself, the number of associated deaths are still rising and are set to peak at 47,000 per year, double those caused by traffic accidents. According to the EESC's asbestos co-rapporteur, Enrico Gibellieri, ‘We are talking about a lot more than traditionally exposed factory workers, now extending our concern to the children in our schools, the people working in our hospitals and public buildings and anyone living in a house, which affects just about everybody’.

Art and safety united in new book

A NEW BOOK PUBLISHED BY THE European Trade Union Institute traces the development of graphic art in illustrating the message of health and safety through the twentieth century. As this message evolved from blaming individuals to mobilising workers in identifying and preventing hazards, techniques such as photomontage, geometric abstraction and rigorous typographic treatment were employed. ‘The art of preventive health and safety in Europe’ collects posters from a number of European countries and working environments and presents them together with an explanatory text.


The cover of the  book


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