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EW2003: do you know what chemicals you are working with?

October 2003
Sheila Pantry OBE

Many people are unaware of the risks to their health when they work with dangerous substances. European Week - EW2003 is the first pan-European campaign to reduce the risks of chemicals, biological agents and other dangerous substances at work - hazards that affect around a quarter of the European Union's (EU's) 150 million employees. Cancers, asthmas and neuropsychiatric problems are just some of the illnesses that can be caused by the 100, 000 chemical marketed in the EU, as well as biological agents.

Failure to control the associated risks can harm people's health in many different ways including: asthma; skin irritation or dermatitis; cancer; reproductive problems and birth defects. It can also result in damage to the nervous and immune systems, affecting vital organs such as the lungs, heart, kidneys and liver. In turn, organisations can suffer through lost productivity and increased liability to prosecution and claims for compensation from employees.

European legislation sets out the obligations of employers to prevent the exposure of workers to harm from dangerous substances in the workplace. These include risk assessment, the prevention of risks associated with dangerous substances, arrangements for dealing with accidents and emergencies, and information and training for workers. In addition, employers are required to involve workers in the development of their safety and health policies.

According to recent European research, 22% of EU workers report being exposed to toxic vapours for a quarter or more of their working time. In addition, 16% of employees have to handle dangerous substances as part of their daily work. Such exposures can harm workers' health in a variety of ways, with effects ranging from mild eye and skin irritations to chronic lung disorders and cancer. That's why this year's European Week for Safety and Health at Work is focusing on reducing the health risks of using dangerous substances. Guidance on how to do this can be found on the European Week website at Member States have also produced their own practical guidelines and preventive tools.

Reducing the risks of working with dangerous substances is not just a moral and legal imperative. There is a strong business case as well. More effective controls can lead to improved staff morale and improved productivity by reducing the amount of raw materials used. The most successful businesses usually have the best safety and health performance. Good health is good business.

The European Week 2003 is an information campaign aimed at making Europe a safe and healthy place to work by promoting activities to reduce the risks of working with dangerous substances. With the backing of all Member States and enlargement countries, the European Commission and Parliament, trade unions and employers' federations, this annual initiative has become the largest workplace safety and health event in Europe. It provides a unique opportunity to focus attention on the importance of safety and health at work.

It is being co-ordinated by the Bilbao-based European Agency for Safety and Health at Work and will run in all 15 EU Member States, the candidate countries, and beyond. The Agency is the European Union organisation responsible for occupational safety and health information.

European Week will take place throughout the month of October 2003, with each country deciding precisely which week is designated. However, the campaign will run throughout 2003.

Don't forget to get your booking in for EurOhse2003 which is on 4 and 5 November 2003

The European Commission's (EC) paper "Adapting to change in work and society: a new Community Strategy on Health and Safety at work 2002-2006" forms the basis for the EurOhse2003 conference to be held in London, UK on the 4th and 5th November 2003.

This is the most important conference for health, safety and environmental professionals in 2003! Be part of the future plans for the ever widening occupational safety, health in Europe. Invest in two days to listen, learn, discuss and network. Bookings are already being made - don't be too late making yours or you may be disappointed!

For further details contact: Mary Meadows, Office and Logistics Manage, European Occupational Health and Safety Magazine (EurOhs), Angel Business Communications Ltd, 34 Warwick Road, Kenilworth CV8 1HE, Warwickshire, UK | Tel: +44 (0)1926 512424 | Fax: + 44 (0)1926 512948 | email: |

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Hope you have a zero accident and incident-free year in 2003 in your workplace.