EU regulation on chemicals ‘toolbox’
Over a third of deaths from occupational causes are attributed to exposure to hazardous substances at work. Controlling the risks of working with hazardous substances is therefore important. Equally, it is widely acknowledged that such control is poorly executed, especially in smaller workplaces.
Funded by the European Chemical Industry (CEFIC), a comparative European study on the environment and contexts of managing risks of working with hazardous substances in small firms in several US member states was carried out, in the wider context of regulatory reforms such as REACH (Registration, Evaluation Authorisation of Chemicals).
The major outcome of this study was a book published in 2008 – ‘Within Reach? Managing chemical risks in small enterprises’ – which examined the mortality and morbidity associated with occupational exposures to hazardous substances in small firms. It also identified weaknesses in approaches to addressing this problem and evaluated the success of strategies to support the improvement of risk management of hazardous substances in small firms.
A further study was undertaken for the Welsh Government in 2007-8, using the same approach but focusing in greater detail on the challenges confronting agencies attempting knowledge transfer on this subject among small enterprises in South Wales.
Publication of the book in 2008 led the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) to broker a meeting between the researchers and the European Textiles Industry Federation (EURATEX) to undertake more specific analysis of the needs of employers and workers in the textiles industry and to design an instrument to help support their implementation of the requirements of REACH.
This involved representatives from seven different EU member states working together with the researchers and the two European Federations in the joint production of a ‘toolbox’ of guidance materials that could be used in support of small firms in the textiles industry.
This toolbox was disseminated by the trade union and employer federations, as well as through the UK Chemical Users Forum. It was also used as the basis for the development of training materials by the TUC’s Education Department and presented at the ETUI’s 7th international seminar on workers’ protection and chemicals. As a result of this seminar, use of the toolbox is currently under discussion by trade unions in a number of EU member states. Discussions are also underway into the translation of the toolbox into other European languages and the production of an interactive electronic version and a picture-based version.