Prevention always pays off

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The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) closes its campaign in managing dangerous substances and announces the next risk to focus on.

It is fair to say that the knowledge and awareness about dangerous substances among European and British companies since April 2018, when the Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances campaign was launched, have definitely increased. Not only has EU OSHA put its resources behind it, but the commitment of local focal points, official campaign partners and media partners like Safety Management have made an impact.

That was the spirit and the conclusion of the EU-OSHA campaign summit held in Bilbao last month. Christa Sedlatschek, EU-OSHA’s executive director, confirmed it: more than 350 activities were organised by EU-OSHA’s focal points in over 30 countries involving over 17,000 participants.

There is no doubt of the need to keep raising awareness of the risk of dangerous substances, even now when the official campaign is over. Too many European workers are exposed to dangerous substances on a daily basis, while the use of hazardous chemicals keeps increasing globally. Pan-European Research shows that 38 per cent of companies report potentially dangerous chemical or biological substances in their workplaces.

The risks, affecting most industries, are especially prevalent in construction, manufacturing and agriculture. However, workers in all sectors could be exposed, putting them at risk of developing acute and long-term health issues such as occupational cancers, respiratory diseases, inner organ damage and skin irritation and diseases. The campaign, which ran from April 2018 until last month, has been very successful in raising awareness of the risks posed to workers and in promoting a culture of prevention.

The event brought together European experts and decision makers to discuss the results of the 2-year campaign “Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances”

Workplace exposure to carcinogens alone is costing the EU economy €2.4bn (£2.1bn) in lost productivity due to worker absence and ill health. The European Commission has recently proposed to limit workers’ exposure to five cancer-causing chemicals, in addition to the 21 substances that have already been limited or proposed to be limited.

During the EU-OSHA summit, various workshops discussed the most effective prevention measures for minimising exposure to carcinogens at work, good practices and interventions, the sustainable management and substitution of dangerous substances in production processes and the future challenges for effective prevention.

Talking to Safety Management about the message to all employers, beyond this campaign, Christa Sedlatschek said:“I think it is important to reinforce the idea of the big link to costs and benefits of occupational safety and health. We now know that there’s a need to invest in prevention and the need to invest in human resources; therefore the message is, if you are smart, then invest in prevention and into better working conditions because it pays off.

More or less, we can say the investment of one euro comes back as between two and five euros. That means, in the end you will benefit from the investment because people are more motivated, healthier, and there is less sick leave or early retirement. That’s an important message.

If you had to pick a moment of the campaign that made you really proud, what would it be?

“There have been several moments in several member states, all events were really great events, there’s a lot of engagement and hard work from focal points at national level and that’s always a highlight for me – to see the people participating. They think it’s a benefit or added value to use our messages or information [provided by us as campaign resources], and that’s great for me.

A highlight and emotional moment of the summit was the ceremony to announce the Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards, which celebrates companies’ innovative contributions to improving occupational safety and health and promoting best practice. This year, six organisations were awarded and four were commended for their proactive and sustainable approaches to protecting workers from hazardous substances.

These are the six awardees:

  • Czechia: VAKOS XT, a.s. & Service Facility for the Ministry of the Interior. Detoxikon – minimising harm to public order and safety personnel from microdoses of illegal narcotics
  • France: Eiffage Infrastructures. Eliminating hazardous solvents from the analysis of reclaimed material in the road repair and construction sector
  • Germany: Federal Association of Glazier Trades. Safe and economical procedure for handling asbestos-containing putty in the glazing trade
  • Netherlands: Mansholt BV. Reducing worker exposure to harmful dust in the arable farming sector
  • Spain: Peluquería Elvira. Substituting hazardous chemicals and ensuring safe, healthy and sustainable working conditions in the hairdressing sector
  • Sweden: Atlas Copco Industrial Technique AB. Protecting workers from potentially hazardous carbon nanotubes in manufacturing.
The team of Peluquería Elvira, Spain, received the award for the substitution of hazardous chemicals and ensuring safe, healthy and sustainable working conditions in the hairdressing sector

What’s next?

The 2020-22 campaign will focus on the prevention of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

MSDs continue to be one of the most prevalent type of work-related health problem in Europe.

Posture-related risks, exposure to repetitive movements to tiring or painful positions, carrying or moving heavy loads – all of these very common workplace risk factors can cause MSDs. Given how widespread work-related MSDs are, it’s clear that more needs to be done to raise awareness of how they can be prevented.

The campaign will take a comprehensive view of the causes of this persistent problem. It aims to disseminate high-quality information on the subject, encourage an integrated approach to managing the problem, and offer practical tools and solutions that can help at workplace level. Once again, Safety Management is looking forward to playing its role as a media partner.

Visit the webpage for EU-OSHA's dangerous substances campaign here 



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