International Workers Memorial Day (28th April) is the annual day of commemoration and remembrance for the workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work. It is the occasion to highlight the vital work carried out by the people dedicated to reducing preventable harm in the workplace.
The numbers relating to workplace risk are shocking. 3,515 people died in reported accidents at work in the EU in 2012 – the last time the EU collected such data. One hundred thousand people die every year in the EU from work-related cancers. Firefighters are just one group of workers exposed to materials that cause cancers. The EPSU firefighters group has been campaigning for measures to address this.
Sadly, the EU has done disappointingly little in recent years to strengthen the protection of workers from workplace diseases and injuries. This, despite the fact that the creation of new technologies and innovation in the workplace have led to a rise in the number of risks for workers and that previously unknown risks have been identified.
In this vein, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), of which EPSU is a member, is campaigning for better health and safety laws for workers at EU and national level. It calls for the strong enforcement of these laws through support for the workplace health and safety representatives who ensure implementation of the regulations. ETUC also opposes attempts to further deregulate or privatise health protection bodies.
“Concerns about the ‘compliance costs’ of regulation for business ignore the costs to workers and their families,” says ETUC Confederal Secretary Esther Lynch, “and should not stop action to prevent workplace accidents and disease.”
- The implementation of binding occupational exposure limits for at least 50 cancer-causing substances in 2016 instead of waiting until 2020. Since October 2013 the Commission has suspended a Directive on exposure to Carcinogens and Mutagens in the workplace in the name of “Better Regulation”, during which time ETUC estimates that 150,000 workers have died. Limits are currently in place for only five such substances.
- Putting forward new regulations to deal with nanoparticles, psycho-social risks and neck, back and elbow pain.
EPSU fully supports the ETUC’s efforts to move the European Commission and national governments to act and staged a photo opportunity for the campaign at the 52nd meeting of our Executive Committee on 19-20 April this year. The pictures of our affiliates giving their backing can be found here.
Like other public services, labour inspectorates have suffered the austerity measures and budget cuts weeping through Europe. Reducing the number of inspectors reduces the number of visits that can be paid to workplaces. It weakens enforcing compliance with health and safety regulation in the workplace and gives employers an easy ride. We need an end to austerity in order to stop this from happening and protect workers’ lives.
ILO Convention 81 provides a common framework and standards for labour inspectorates across the world, yet an EPSU report from 2012 has found that the number of labour inspectors in 15 European countries is more often than not insufficient. Europe’s financial crisis has served to add even more work to an already overburdened public administration.
On International Workers’ Memorial Day, EPSU calls for an end to regulatory stasis and for urgent investment in health and safety inspectorates; failure to do so will cost lives and livelihoods. Click here to find out more about ETUC’s campaign and how you can help spread the message.