The European Agency for Safety & Health at Work (EU-OSHA) is launching a new campaign to raise awareness of exposure to dangerous substances at work.
The Healthy Workplaces campaign represents an important area of cooperation between the European Agency and the Enterprise Europe Network. Over the years, the Network has helped SMEs across the UK to keep up-to-date with legislation and rules to prevent work-related death, injury and ill health.
Our most recent seminars were held on the topics of how to “manage stress at work” and “dealing with an ageing workforce”, providing inspirational case studies from the public and private sector, sharing good practice and facts from national bodies.
Practical information on the new campaign “dangerous substances” will be useful to businesses across a variety of sectors. Workers can be affected by exposure to dangerous substances such as asbestos and vinyl chloride in their workplace. These substances have been banned, are restricted or subjected to strict regulatory control.
Dangerous substances can put peoples' safety at risk from fire, explosion and corrosion
Large companies often use more than 1,000 different chemical products, such as paints, inks, glues and cleaners which consist of a mixture of several chemical substances. Even small enterprises, such as car repair shops, can use lots of chemicals. For some sectors, such as the construction industry, thousands of different chemical products are available on the market, for a large variety of tasks. Depending on the job, a single worker can come into contact with hundreds of different chemical substances.
It is therefore essential to have an effective management of health and safety risk assessments in the workplace, to benefit everyone involved. As the European Agency notes, it is good for workers, good for society as a whole and good for business. This applies especially to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), where resources are limited and when taking care of workers’ health and safety from less visible dangers.
Dangerous substances are more common than you think
Companies in the following sectors reported using a particularly high amount of dangerous substances in a report from EU-OSHA, 2016 (Managing Safety and Health at Work):
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing 62 %
- Manufacturing 52 %
- Construction, waste management, and water and electricity supply 51 %
There is increasing evidence that workers in sectors such as social and healthcare, transport, waste and the recycling industry may experience high levels of exposure to dangerous substances. In all sectors, there are typical working tasks that often involve exposure, such as food preparation (canteens, catering, etc.), cleaning and maintenance.
According to the European Survey on Working Conditions, in 2015, 18% of the surveyed workers in the EU reported being exposed to chemical products or substances for at least a quarter of their working time. This figure had barely changed since 2000.
No sector is completely free of dangerous substances, and it is vital that employers assess the risks that their workers may face.
The Healthy Workplaces Campaign
‘Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances’ aims to raise awareness of the risks posed by dangerous substances at work and promote a prevention culture in workplaces across Europe. It also highlights the importance of the prevention hierarchy known as the STOP principle: Substitution, Technical controls, Organisational measures and Personal protective equipment.
The campaign stresses that eliminating or reducing worker exposure will protect them from fire, explosion, suffocation, and health problems such as skin diseases, allergies, respiratory illnesses, birth defects, and cancers.
The Enterprise Europe Network will be supporting the campaign by publicizing campaign materials, organizing events to share good practice and highlight risk prevention strategies. Many of the events will take part during the European Weeks for Safety and Health at Work in October 2018 and 2019.
About the campaign: https://healthy-workplaces.eu
The EU-OSHA works in partnership with a wide range of organisations across Europe. In the UK, EU-OSHA is represented by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and HSE Northern Ireland (HSENI).