The European Week of Safety and Health at Work 2018 starts on the 22nd of October. The awareness week is held every October and has the objective of highlighting workplace health with hundreds of events which take place across the EU and beyond.
Organised by EU-OSHA and its partners, the awareness week has a different theme each year. The issue in 2018 is dangerous substances at work. Campaign materials and events created for the week have been designed to increase awareness of hazardous substances in the workplace – with the ultimate aim of promoting a culture of risk prevention.
Are dangerous substances a worthy issue?
According to the European Survey on Working Conditions (2015), 18% of a survey of workers interviewed in the EU reported exposure to chemical products or substances for at least a quarter of their working time.
This statistic alone shows what a significant issue dangerous substances are. Being exposed to hazardous substances can not only be unpleasant but also damaging to health. Here in the UK many of us are aware of substances like asbestos – a material found in old buildings. Exposure to asbestos can cause serious, and often fatal, lung disease.
Many substances have been banned, restricted or subject to strict controls once deemed dangerous – but they continue to be a severe and significant safety issue in workplaces. The HSE has recently published an updated version of EH40 – which includes useful information on workplace exposure limits.
Is this issue relevant to all businesses?
Dangerous substances are present in more businesses than you’d think. Most of us know that large sites and enterprises use dangerous substances – but many small and medium-sized companies do too. Dangerous substances like chemical cleaners, paints and glues (to name just a few) are present in workplaces such as hair salons, hospitals, car repair shops and farms.
Are there dangerous substances in my workplace?
A dangerous substance in a workplace can be a gas, liquid or a solid. Some dangerous substances present a risk to workplaces – like fire or explosions, while others can be a risk of harm to employee health.
Many people think that dangerous substances are just chemicals which smell strong – but this is a myth. A dangerous substance can be natural and may not have a smell at all. For example – the dust which comes from grain manufacture can be hazardous if not managed correctly.
Dangerous substances are not even labelled. This is one reason EU-OSHA chose to raise awareness of this issue as some workers don’t realise that they need to seek more information about the substances they work with on a daily basis. The full list of dangerous substances is vast – in 2017 around 129,000 substances were classified according to the Labelling and Packaging Regulation (CLP).
The MRS Training & Rescue workplace safety consultancy service can help if you want to find out if you have the right safety procedures, training and labelling in place for your workplace. Our consultants are highly experienced and can provide you with the peace of mind to know you are keeping your employees safe. To learn more about what we do and how we can help, please feel free to contact us.
What does 'exposure' to substances mean?
Workers can be exposed to dangerous substances in many different ways. Materials can be inhaled (breathed in) or absorbed through the skin. Workers can sometimes also digest materials through eating or drinking. Heavy lifting work or heat can also increase risk – as it can sometimes increase exposure.
Are dangerous substances becoming less prevalent?
This is another dangerous myth. Many people think that because working practices are modern, there is no risk – this is not true. Many workers can be at more risk of exposure to dangerous substances because of their workplace environment. One example the EU-OSHA reference is those working in wind turbines.
Someone working in a wind turbine needs to consider more than one set of risks. They need to complete training which covers all the dangers of their workplace – including working at height training and confined space training. In addition to this, they need to be aware of the substances they may be exposed to – poor ventilation in turbines can add to this risk. Often respiratory equipment will need to be considered in their workplace.
How can I get involved and find out more information?
We recommend you visit the European Week of Safety and Health at Work 2018 website. Here you’ll find more information about events, how you can get involved and campaign materials.
In addition to this, you can make sure you have completed a risk assessment at your workplace. Legislation across the EU makes clear that this is essential for preventing exposure to dangerous substances.
If you need help to assess or understand controlled substances in your business contact our consultancy team. Our team is highly experienced and accredited to international standards. We also provide tailored solutions and can work with you to complete risk assessments and prevention controls.