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16 January 2012

Belgium: transport sector social partners campaign against toxic gases

The social partners in the transport and logistics sector launched an information campaign, on 30 November 2011, to raise awareness about the hazards of exposure to toxic gases among workers in contact with goods containers.
When containers are opened, workers can be exposed to toxic gases in two different cases: when the goods transported have been treated with a gas or solid substance to prevent rotting or to control vermin, and when goods contain substances, such as glues or paints, that can release toxic substances. In both cases, the critical phase occurs at the time the containers are opened, because it is when the gases come into contact with oxygen that they become particularly toxic.
According to the campaign's initiators*, one container in five originating outside Europe contains toxic gases and 95% of containers are labelled insufficiently or not at all. The containers concerned are primarily those transported by sea. International regulations impose the labelling of containers treated by fumigation, but they are apparently being very poorly applied.
Workers exposed to these gases suffer from the following conditions: headaches and nausea that can result in memory loss and damage to the nervous system, with death occurring in extreme cases. Over the medium and longer term, relatively serious chronic diseases are to be feared, in particular cancers.
The campaign – "Toxic gases:don't get caught!"– follows on from the conclusion in September 2010 of a collective labour agreement that makes provision for the mandatory inclusion of this problem in the annual action plan on health at the workplace for companies in the transport and logistics sector. The campaign being conducted in Belgium is inspired by initiatives implemented in the Netherlands.
* CSC Transcom, FGTB UBOT, Febetra, Transport & Logistiek Vlaanderen, UPT

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