Unions push for better laws on work cancers

The Hazards Campaign is backing a Europe-wide trade union push for better, more protective laws against occupational cancer.

Unions are to work throughout the Dutch Presidency of the European Union to develop a preventive approach to occupational cancer. During this presidency, which runs from January to June, the Dutch government has expressed a desire to update the EU Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, a longstanding union objective.

A new report from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) says the union objective is to “eliminate occupational cancer.” Promoting a six-point preventive charter, it urges unions to run a political and awareness campaign. This should include approaching embassies and consulates of the Netherlands to present the union campaign objectives, it notes.

The ETUC report, Why we need to focus on work-related cancer, notes: “At workplaces trade unions are demanding that dangerous substances and processes are eliminated or substituted with less dangerous ones. Likewise we are seeking to improve work organisation in order to avoid or minimise exposures to night and shift work. To reinforce this work we are calling for improvements to the legislative framework at EU level and we are seizing the opportunity created by the initiative of the Dutch Presidency.”

Welcoming the union initiative, the Hazards Campaign’s Hilda Palmer said: “Occupational cancer deaths in the UK occur at a rate of around two every hour, round the clock. They cause massive suffering and immeasurable heartache. And despite costing society considerably more than workplace injuries, they are an ignored epidemic. We want regulatory authorities to beef up the law and enforce the law.”

She said the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was a ‘bad actor’ in Europe, resisting improvements in legal protection from carcinogens and blocking more protective exposure standards.

She points to a 2012 ‘Cancer costs’ article in Hazards magazine, which noted: “In 2012 an officially convened European Union Working Party on Chemicals (WPC) with representatives  from four member states – France, Finland, Germany and the UK – attempted to agree binding occupational exposure limits (BOELs) for 26 workplace carcinogens. Only the UK, when presented with a choice, openly supported a number of proposals to introduce a less protective BOEL.”

Helen Lynn of the Alliance for Cancer Prevention said: “More people are exposed to harmful chemicals than at any time in history, in their workplaces, homes and in the wider environment. Polluting our bodies comes at a massive cost, both human and financial. There are better ways to work, starting with sunsetting the most deadly substances and introducing toxics use reduction policies to phase out others. Doing nothing is condemning another generation to a pointless, preventable early death.”

Resource: Work cancer hazards blog.

 

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