Working towards a safer EU

first_img Previous Article Next Article KeithNuthall looks at how the EU is tackling two areas of particular relevance tooccupational health – electromagnetic exposure to workers and road safetyElectromagneticexposureTheEuropean Union (EU) has a reputation for tortoise-like progress in the approvalof its legislation, and maybe that is no great surprise, given its proposalshave to satisfy an overwhelming majority of its 15 member countries andEuropean parliamentarians.However,the 11 years that the EU’s Council of Ministers took to agree limit values onthe maximum electromagnetic exposure is something out of the ordinary, even inBrussels. The reason for such a time-lag in approving such an important OHproposal is the blinding technical progress in microwave technology over thepast decade, especially regarding telecommunication devices.Ministersand MEPs have been conscious of the need to avoid passing legislation that isout of date as soon as it is written into the statute book. But nationalgovernments decided there was sufficient stability in European technology in2003 to have a stab at forging decent legislation. So,what does it look like? Under a directive agreed at the Council of Ministerslast October, employers in any sector across the EU will be required to carryout risk assessments of the dangers to their staff from equipment such as powerlines, radio, television and mobile phone masts, as well as large furnaces,such as those in the metal industry.Crucially,this directive, Safety and health at work: exposure of workers toelectromagnetic fields, sets out maximum levels for exposure, and alsoestablishes the levels at which preventive measures must be taken by employers.Thisis an advance on existing UK legislation, which does not, according to theInstitute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), currently include suchtechnical specifications.Thelimits agreed by the Council of Ministers are calculated according to complexmathematical formulae based on the frequency range, the strength of an electricfield, lengths of exposure and whether there are multiple or singlefrequencies. For example, in the frequency range 0.3 to 10 GHz and forlocalised exposure of the head, an exposure limit should not exceed 10 mJ perkg of body weight. These limit values have been designed to prevent workersreceiving induced electric currents in the body, shocks and burns, and theabsorption of thermal energy produced by electromagnetic fields.Thelegislation as it stands (and it will almost certainly receive further amendmentsfrom the European Parliament), sets out issues that should be covered in riskassessments. These include, for example, direct and indirect effects, such asinterference with medical equipment (for example, pacemakers), or ignition offlammable objects.Dependingon the outcome of this risk assessment, employers may also be required to drawup an action plan of organisational and technical measures to reduce levels,and to display warning signs in areas with excessive levels of electromagneticfield.Employerswould also be required to provide adequate information and training for anyworkers that might be at risk.Article3 of the directive sets out exposure limit values and action values for workerswho come into constant contact with electromagnetic radiation. There are alsodifferent rules for workplaces open to the public. If an evaluation has alreadybeen carried out – following the rules of EU Council Recommendation 1999/519/ECon the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields –and the checks conclude that there are no significant safety risks, then theemployer doesn’t need to carry out a new evaluation of the exposure levels.Theserules are complex and will lay a serious responsibility on whoever isconducting the risk assessment, according to IOSH technical affairs manager KenLucas. “If they are not trained and competent to identify these hazards, therecould be problems,” he said, noting that there are “still people in industrywho do not know the difference between hazards and risk”.However,the specification of maximum levels of exposure would help bring assessors upto speed, he told Occupational Health. What was now needed was for businesseswith electromagnetic exposure risks to undertake training of assessors and makeuse of services offered by such organisations as Britain’s NationalRadiological Protection Board, he says. InBrussels, the passing of the legislation has been welcomed by AnnaDiamantopoulou, the EU’s employment and social affairs commissioner. She says:“We are all committed to achieving better protection of the health and safetyof workers exposed to risks at work. The directive foresees preventive actionsto protect the health and safety of workers. The scientific data availableshows that over-exposure to electromagnetic fields can have seriousconsequences for workers’ health.”RoadsafetyTheareas concerning OH are constantly expanding beyond the immediate workplace,and one of particular interest, currently under wide discussion at the EU, isroad safety.Proposalsare being debated that will not only affect the technical design of vehicles,but also the road safety checks by public authorities and the compensationavailable from insurance payouts. The importance of such issues could beincreased in future, with occupational health circles discussing whether “roaddeaths could be investigated as a workplace injury in future,” says Lucas.Withreference to technology, the European Commission (EC) has released itsanticipated proposal for banning the fitting of bull-bars on passenger cars orlight vans in the EU, following a call for action from the European Parliament.Theproposed legislation follows a series of talks between the commission andmanufacturers associations in Europe, Japan and South Korea, where carmanufacturers have promised not to install ‘rigid bull bars’ as frontalprotection devices from 2002.Thecommitment came after broad talks took place searching for a wide series ofvoluntary commitments on collision impact adaptations to auto designs. Thesetoo were abandoned in favour of broad safety legislation, which is currentlybeing debated by the parliament and the EU Council of Ministers.However,on the subject of bull bars, the commission has yielded to pressure for a morespecific ban, and this has now been tabled for approval by MEPs and ministers.Member states would have to block type-approval for all new models with bullbars from July 2005, and ban the fitting of bull bars on any new car sold inthe EU after January 2006. Bullbars are not the only technical safety issue being examined in Brussels at themoment. The commission is very keen to see the fitting of the latestintelligent and e-safety devices in cars, which can warn motorists of roadconditions and correct driver error automatically. The EU enterprisecommissioner, Erkki Liikanen, has even warned that he might have to tablelegislation to force car manufacturers to include these devices in designs ifthere is a low take up. Onroad safety checks, the commission wants to force EU member states to be moreattentive to the condition of lorries and the working conditions of drivers, tomake sure they are not working excessive hours and are more tired than is safe.A new proposal in this area is raising the quantity of safety checks on lorryoperators from 1 to 3 per cent of days worked. The commission’s tableddirective would ensure that at least 50 per cent of checks are carried out onthe employers’ premises, and orders each EU member state to designate a leadenforcement body for this work. The legislation would also insist on basicstandards for training and equipping staff.Anotherclause would insist that member states design road infrastructure plans toinclude sufficient lay-bys or service stations to allow for roadside checks andrest-periods for drivers. This is useful legislation, according to Lucas.“There are too many people killed on the roads. Any improvement to road safetyis welcome, whether it affects cars or lorries,” he says.Nonetheless,whatever reductions in road accident numbers are achieved by these proposals,there will still be traffic injuries. Because of this, a further piece oflegislation under discussion in Brussels, aiming to improve compensation ratesfor victims.Ministersand MEPs are trying to set minimum levels of coverage provided by compulsorymotor insurance in the EU, and although there is no agreement yet on its level,there is a consensus that minimum coverage rates must be raised.Atits latest airing – at a European Parliament plenary session – MEPs backed theviews of the insurance industry by taking a political machete to proposedamendments from its legal affairs committee.Ithad tabled minimum coverage of 10 million euros per accident for personalinjury (whatever the number of victims), and 5 million euros in the case ofdamage to property. Instead, the plenary (full parliament) voted for minimumpersonal injury coverage on compulsory motor insurance policies to reach at least5 million euros per accident.Thiswas welcomed by the Comité Européen des Assurances (CEA), which said it was “inline with CEA proposals”. It was particularly pleased with this vote, giventhat the plenary also set a minimum coverage level of 2 million euros pervictim.TheCEA said: “If an individual minimum cover per person had been adopted byitself, insurers’ finances would have been jeopardised for accidents involvinglarge numbers of seriously injured people.”Theindustry body was less happy with the plenary’s decision regarding propertydamage claims from motor accidents, with MEPs saying policies should offer atleast 2 million euros in possible compensation.www.cec.org.uk, EuropeanCommission Representation in the United Kingdomwww.europe.osha.eu, European Agency forHealth and Safety at Workwww.europa.eu.int/cj/en/index.htm,European Court of Justicewww.iosh.co.uk, Institution of OccupationalSafety and Health Working towards a safer EUOn 1 Jan 2004 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more

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