European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions
Together for decent work and fair pay from farm to fork

28 April – International Workers’ Memorial Day - New health and safety laws now!

27/04/2016

As agriculture is the most dangerous workplace of all the economic sectors in Europe, today EFFAT commemorates the workers who fell on the fields due to musculoskeletal disorders or cancer caused by a daily exposure to chemical, physical and biological hazards while cultivating and harvesting crops.

On International Workers’ Memorial Day EFFAT Secretary General Harald Wiedenhofer said: “Today we stand united with our umbrella confederation honouring those who lost their lives at work. Fatal accidents in agriculture are three times higher than the average of all other sectors. EFFAT urges the European Commission to keep its word and issue new health and safety legislation for all the workers in Europe”.

As many as 3,515 people died in reported accidents at work in the EU in 2012 – according to the last EU statistics. Some 100,000 die in the EU every year from cancer contracted at work.

The EU has done very little in recent years to strengthen the protection of workers from workplace diseases and injuries, despite the fact that medical research has identified new risks, created by novel technologies and innovations.

“Workers need better protection,” said ETUC Confederal Secretary Esther Lynch, adding that “New laws are needed now”.

“The most efficient and effective way to protect workers from workplace disease and injury is through laws at EU and national level. Workers’ health protection should not be deregulated or privatised. Strong laws should be backed up by strong enforcement and a strong system of workplace health and safety representatives.”

The ETUC calls for new health and safety laws to be brought in urgently, in order to protect workers by:

  • Implementing binding occupational exposure limits in 2016 instead of delaying it until 2020 for at least 50 cancer-causing substances, instead of the current five;
  • Putting forward new regulations to deal with:

o    nanoparticles;

o    psycho-social risks including stress, violence and harassment;

o    neck, back and elbow pain.

 

A Directive on carcinogens and mutagens has been under review by the EU for some 12 years without any changes being made! This year the European Commission is proposing a review of all health and safety laws. The Commission is ignoring the fact that its Advisory Committee of employers, governments and trade unions agrees further review is not needed!

“Concerns about the ‘compliance costs’ of regulation for business ignore the costs to workers and their families,” added Lynch, “and should not stop actions to prevent workplace accidents and disease.”

Evidence of the need for action, in addition to the horrific death toll, is clear:   

  • Between 2010 and 2015 there has been a rise in the percentage of workers handling chemicals and infectious materials.*
  • Half of all workers consider work-related stress to be common in their workplace.**
  • More than two in five workers work in painful or tiring positions for a quarter or more of their working time*

*http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/resume/2015/working-conditions/first-findings-sixth-european-working-conditions-survey-resume

** https://osha.europa.eu/en/themes/psychosocial-risks-and-stress

Note to editors: International Workers’ Memorial Day takes place annually around the world on 28 April, to remember and take action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by work.

 

 

EFFAT is the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions. As a European Trade Union Federation representing 120 national trade unions from 35 European countries, EFFAT defends the interests of more than 22 million workers towards the European Institutions, European employers’ associations and transnational companies. EFFAT is a member of the ETUC and the European regional organisation of the IUF.