Communicating information about dangerous substances
European Week for Safety and Health at Work 2003
The theme for this year's European Week for Safety and Health is the prevention of risks from dangerous substances. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work along with all the Member States and also those countries that are joining the Union are mounting a major campaign to make people aware of the risks to their health when they work with dangerous substances. This 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 EU's 150 million employees. Cancers, asthmas and neuropsychiatric problems are just of the illnesses that can be caused by the 100, 000 chemical marketed in the EU, as well as biological agents.
Effective communication about the risks is a challenge for employers, workers, their representatives and management.
The EU regulations on classification and labeling set the frame for obligations of producers of chemical substances. They determine important information to be provided in a standardised way in safety labels, risk symbols and safety data sheets. The Council Directive 98/24/EEC of 7 April 1998 on the protection of the health and safety of workers fro risks related to chemical agents at work specifies that employers shall obtain additional information that is needed for risk assessment from the supplier and/or other readily available sources. The employers also have to ensure that the workers and/or their representatives are informed and trained on:
- hazardous properties of the chemical agents handled
- the level, type and duration of exposure and the circumstances of work involving such agents
- appropriate precautions to safeguard themselves and other workers at the workplaces
- the effect of risk-management procedures taken or to be taken
- relevant occupational exposure limit values or biological limit values
- where available, the conclusions to be drawn from any health surveillance and exposure assessment already undertaken.
- additionally the employer shall also ensure that the workers are aware of the changes in these circumstances.
Where to get help
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has produced a range of publications to support the week, including:
- Communicating information about dangerous substances - FACTS 35
- Elimination and substitution of dangerous substances - FACTS 34
- An introduction to dangerous substances in the workplace - FACTS 33
FACTS 35 gives two very useful checklists
- Checklist for information for workers and
- Checklist for good communication between the employer and the workers
For general information about the Week visit the dedicated multilingual website https://www.healthy-workplaces.eu/en/european-week-safety-and-health-work. As well as providing up-to-date information on the European Week campaign, it gives easy access to a wealth of occupational health and safety information on the Agency main website: http://osha.europa.eu.
For other useful sources visit the following:
- The interactive web site COSHH essentials hosted by the UK Health and Safety Executive - this has been designed to provide simple step-by-step guidance for small firms for assessment and control of the dangerous substances that they use in the workplace.
- The Gestis-substance database of the German institutions for statutory accident insurance and prevention makes information available for about 7,000 substances. The system is linked to an exposure database (DOK-MEGA) and a safety datasheet databases (ISI) providing links to over 410,000 safety datasheets by 200 producers. These are complemented by a database of combustion and explosion characteristics (GESTIS-DUST-EX) of more than 4,000 dust samples covering most sectors of industry.
- The International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSCs) developed by three co-operating international organisations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Labour Office (ILO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the context of co-operation with the European Communities, offer information for more than 1,200 substances. An ICSC card summarises essential health and safety information on chemicals for their use at the shop floor level by workers and employers. The cards are also available in other languages.
Finally using the www.oshworld.com portal and going to the subject and country links will lead you easily to other validated and authoritative sources of chemical information and data sheets.
Make sure your workplace gets involved in the European Week in October 2003!