On its way toward a more sustainable Europe, the Commission also intends to improve the protection against hazardous substances. The Austrian Chamber of Labour has taken part in the Consultation of the Commission on the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and demands a consistent strategy to improve the protection of citizens and above all of employees at work.
Among other, the European Commission has announced a Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability for Autumn 2020 within the scope of the European Green Deal and launched a Consultation. It is the aim of the Commission to contribute to a pollution-free environment in order to better protect citizens and the environment against hazardous chemicals and to promote the development of safe and sustainable alternatives.
The Austrian Chamber of Labour welcomes the initiative and demands an ambitious and consistent strategy. There are still many substances, whose hazardous characteristics are still fairly unknown, in particular as regards to substances, to which workers are only exposed to in small quantities. However, here too, a comprehensive evaluation may be necessary to improve the protection of workers, who come into contact with such substances.
A Study by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) on the cost of occupational cancer in the EU-28 shows the extent of the problem: based on its figures, one has to assume that in the EU about 147,000 workers each year develop cancer because they are exposed to carcinogenic chemicals at work. The target of the strategy has to be that no worker develops cancer as a consequence of his or her job. This requires apart from binding limits also improvements to the daily work to ensure that workers have as little contact with toxic substances as possible.
There are several options with regard to the analysis, which instrument is best suited for the respective substance, such as the determination of an occupational limit value, the authorisation requirement or in case of particular hazardous chemicals, a partial or complete ban. These options entail a wide range of costs for manufacturers and also mean different levels of expenditure for the authorities. An objective, transparent and well-documented assessment system is required to determine, which option presents the best solution for the respective risk. However, even though this decision falls into the responsibility of the authorities, the social partners have to be appropriately integrated in this process.
Apart from that, the Austrian Chamber of Labour welcomes the zero-pollution ambition for a pollution-free environment, as it has already been proposed in the European Green Deal and supports the effort to effectively reduce the use of pesticides. As many of the “pollutant sources“ are best avoided by not authorizing these substances in the first place, it requires a cross-sector approach to prevent pollution right from the start. This requires in particular greater coherence with other EU legislative acts, in particular in respect of agriculture and the use of pesticides. In this context, it is important to support the strategies “From Farm to Fork” as well as the Biodiversity Strategy that the Commission presented in May 2020 and which already address the use of pesticides in agriculture.
Efforts at different levels are also required concerning hazardous substances in products in order to reduce their occurrence. In spite of existing information rights in the supply chains, current provisions do not prevent the use of particular hazardous substances in products. In order to achieve this, international trade must do more to capitalise on the exchange of information and on programmes concerning the non-use of substances of particularly high concern.