European Parliament

MEPs call for better protection of workers from occupational diseases and workplace accidents


Source: European Parliament

 In a report on the Community strategy on health and safety at work 2007-2012, the European Parliament regrets that the Commission 'is silent on targets for the reduction of occupational diseases'. New and emerging risks had to be identified, and asbestos needed to be phased out. MEPs also repeat their call for a better protection of healthcare workers from blood borne diseases. The report was adopted with 598 votes in favour, 20 against and 23 abstentions.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that in 2006 in the EU approximately 167,000 people died from a work related accident or disease. Another 300,000 workers suffer permanent disability every year, estimates the Commission.
Protect healthcare workers from blood borne infections
The report by Glenis Willmott (East Midlands, Labour, PES, UK) criticises the Commission saying that it still does not propose to amend the directive on the exposure to biological agents at work so as to protect healthcare workers from blood borne diseases due to needle stick injuries. MEPs warn that healthcare workers are at risk of contracting more than twenty life-threatening viruses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV/Aids. They expect 'a suitable amendment to the directive to be adopted well before the end of the legislature in mid-2009'. 
Opening the debate in Strasbourg Ms Willmott said: 'The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work estimates that every year over 140,000 people in the EU die from occupational diseases and nearly 9000 die from work related accidents. These figures mean that every three and a half minutes somebody in the European Union dies from a work related cause. That means that, in the short time I have been speaking already, it is possible that somebody has died and, by the time this debate is finished, it is probable that 20 people will have died.
We need a Framework Directive on musculoskeletal disorders to address a problem such as lower back pain, repetitive strain injuries and, effectively, lower back disorders.'
New legislation on occupational diseases and musculoskeletal disorders needed
The Commission has set itself the ambitious target of reducing workplace accidents across the EU by 25%. But also for the reduction of occupational diseases - such as occupational cancer - targets need to be set, says the Parliament. MEPs, therefore, suggest transforming the EU recommendation on occupational diseases into a minimum directive.
They are also concerned about the increasing occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and therefore ask the Commission to consider proposing a directive covering all risks concerning work-related MSD.
Identify new and emerging risks and phase out asbestos
The Parliament also stresses the need 'to identify and monitor new and emerging risks, e.g. psychosocial risks, in good time'.
Member States should draw up national action plans on phasing out asbestos which should include obligations to map asbestos in buildings and to provide for a safe removal, say MEPs.
Obligatory job retention
The report calls on governments to ensure that people who have experienced a physical or mental illness during their working lives retain their jobs e.g. through training or reallocation of tasks.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Finally, MEPs consider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as one of the effective tools to improve the competitiveness, better occupational and safety at work, better working environment and in this aspect encourages exchange of good practices at local, national and European levels among the Member States and globally at multinational level as well as further applying of CSR on voluntary bases, but as an integrated part of business strategies for development.

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