From the TUC

MEPs vote in favour of strategic framework on health and safety at work

27 Nov 2015, by Guest in Working Life

The health and well-being of employees is a fundamental right for all European citizens. While there has been considerable progress in terms of protection of workers in difficult and hazardous roles, occupational safety risks are still in existence.

A report published this week by the European Parliament revealed that across Europe 4,000 workers each year die due to accidents at work and more than 150,000 deaths can be attributed to fatal work related illnesses and disease.

The report identified women as a particular ‘at risk’ group. It is easy to assume women undertake lower ‘at risk’ jobs but this obscures the specific set of health problems women are exposed to and which are directly associated with work.

In fact women’s employment in the EU is higher in the service industry, health and social sector retail, manufacturing and education and they are increasingly employed in part time casual jobs which have significant health and safety implications. The report found that “women can face specific risks, including musculoskeletal disorders or certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer or endometrial cancer, as a result of certain types of jobs where they are over-represented.”

The EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2014-2020, presented to the European Parliament this week, states that a combination of both legislative and non-legislative measures must be adopted to ensure the safe and healthy working environment for all European workers.

The report found that continued economic instability has increased job insecurity, and as a result of such instability employers risk losing sight of the importance of health and safety compliance within the workplace. In addition, the effect of precarious employment, no doubt having increased following the economic crisis, is that it may exclude workers from accessing vital training exercises and services. It also contributes to employees’ mental stress due to job insecurity.

But it is not just the obvious and serious implications of the health and well-being of employees that organisations must consider but also their own business case and the impact poor investment in this area can have.

Investment in preventative measures (including the administrative costs associated with implementing such measures) are significantly lower to business than those associated with occupational diseases and ill health.

While accidents at work account for only a small number of work related deaths, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, account for many more. And these require greater focus and attention. In addition musculoskeletal disorders are occur with increasing frequency across all EU member states and impact on employees’ ability to actually stay in employment.

The report also considered psychological risks, a growing problem for employers. Almost half of workers across the EU consider some form of work related stress to be present at their workplace.

Meanwhile workers across Europe continue to be exposed to asbestos, harmful carcinogens and mutagens in the workplace despite employers knowing of the serious ill health consequences of such exposure. This is simply not good enough. We must protect workers’ form these harmful chemicals.

When presented with the report earlier this week I am pleased to say that I and my Labour colleagues voted in favour of this strategy which aims to cut the of work related deaths and incidences of illness and injury. Despite opposition from UK Conservative and UKIP MEPs, it was voted through and became the resolution of the European Parliament.

I hope this strategy will emphasise the need for proper training to eliminate avoidable work place accidents. I also hope the strategy will help to tackle instances of diseases and cancers caused by asbestos and other carcinogens by implementing appropriate screening measures.

It’s important that we continue to fight in Europe for workers’ rights. The European Union is protecting UK workers from those who would sooner scrap those rights – Its fight for health and safety at work is one more reason why the people of Britain are better off in the EU.