European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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21 December 2011

Trade union seminar on risks arising from electromagnetic fields at the workplace

The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) sponsored a seminar, on 7 and 8 December in Krakow (Poland), on revision of the European directive on risks for workers arising from exposure to electromagnetic fields (Directive 2004/40).
Scientists and experts representing ETUC member organisations took part in the discussions on the content of the draft directive presented by the Commission last June. This text is meant to replace the 2004 directive, which Member States were initially required to transpose into national law by 2008, a deadline subsequently postponed by four years.
Debates focused on the health impacts of electromagnetic fields for European workers. Although there are many established observations, the experts present pointed out the numerous unknowns in terms of the biological, physiological, cognitive and other effects of electromagnetic fields. "It is impossible at this time to explain the biological mechanisms that come into play during exposure of cells to these types of physical agents and the hypotheses developed by biologists and physiologists cannot be reproduced yet", explained Roland Gauthy, researcher at ETUI’s Working Conditions, Health and Safety Department.
There is consequently a need to collect data among exposed workers, with the assistance of occupational doctors, and to register these data. Cases of brain cancer have been observed among electricians exposed directly to electrical shocks, along with cases of Alzheimer’s disease among workers performing shift work. In the latter case, numerous uncertainties exist as to the causative agent: electromagnetic fields or night-time exposure to light that has the effect of blocking melatonin production?
Considering the lack of scientific certainties about the health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields, the ETUC and its member organisations defend the application of the ALARA principle under which all exposures must be kept at the lowest level reasonably achievable in light of economic and social factors
The new draft directive must follow the complete co-decision procedure in Parliament and the Council. Once the text has been adopted, the Member States must transpose it into their national legislations, probably by 2016. On 7 December, the European Economic and Social Committee adopted an opinion on the text proposed by the Commission.

Source: ETUI
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