European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

Reducing worker exposure

Far too many workers every day handle products that contain dangerous chemicals not knowing the risks they run. Chemical risks cannot be properly prevented if workers and their representatives do not have access to clear, accurate and understandable information on dangerous products.

Workers are meant to have access to the safety data sheets that go with dangerous chemicals. But that does not mean that the preventive recommendations they contain – like wearing personal protective equipment - are always applied.

Preventing risks at source - which means not using toxic products – is the best way to go wherever possible. That is why the ETUC argues that dangerous products should be replaced with alternatives that are safer for human health. Such substitution is also called for by the EU’s REACH Regulation.

Many free tools can be found on the Internet that employers and workers' reps can use to rid the workplace of harmful products. They include databases that list hazardous substances, suggest alternatives and give examples of how substitution has worked in firms across a range of industry sectors. The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has joined with the Spanish Trade Union Institute Istas to develop the RISCTOX chemicals database. Workers can now access data cards through the ETUI website on 100,000-odd chemicals, many thousands of which can cause cancer, allergies, disrupt the hormonal system or put the reproductive system at risk.