Healthy Workplaces - Recognizing and Managing Dangerous Substances

Trade union representatives from France, Poland, Portugal and Germany met in Bonn from 14 to 16 March 2019 to discuss "Healthy Workplaces - Recognizing and Managing Dangerous Substances" and measures to raise awareness and preventive action in their respective communities to inform industries. Presented were examples from the chemical, mineral oil, agriculture, waste management, water management, construction and wood, freight, food, pharmaceutical and fire departments. The seminar was organized in cooperation with the NSZZ "Solidarność", the Nowy Staw Foundation from Lublin, the French Trade Union Federation CFTC and the Portuguese workers' movement BASE-F.U.T./C.F.T.L

The European Centre for Workers' Questions (EZA) from Königswinter organized the conference as part of the Europe-wide campaign of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Nathalie Henke from the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Dortmund, head of the national "focal point" of EU-OSHA in Germany, presented the campaign. She also described the baua - Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Dortmund - with its core tasks and fields of action.

Józef Mozolewski, EZA's Vice-President, and EZA's Board Member João Paulo Branco, in their welcoming remarks pointed to the important role of workers' organizations in identifying health hazards related to hazardous substances, taking preventive action and often existing structures to use for dealing with them.

The knowledge about dangers is a fundamental precondition for prevention, was one of the key findings of the seminar. The participants were able to experience the different ways in which the topic was dealt with in the individual presentations of the trade union representatives, in which they were able to obtain information about various questions: Who is responsible for safety and health protection in the companies? Who is liable for industrial accidents? How is national and regional OSH organized in the individual countries? How is the cooperation between the different actors regulated? Each country has its own rules, but there are always clear rules.

One of the key demands of the participants was not only to limit or minimize risks in dealing with hazardous substances, but to eliminate them as far as possible. The main risk factor is the human, so training was considered an important element, especially for employees who are exposed to particular risks in their daily work. You have to provide the employees with the necessary knowledge so that they know how to protect themselves. Here are especially the employers in the duty. They would have to describe the dangers and inform the workers that the risk had to be assessed and appropriate safeguards implemented. Taking the example of the petrochemical industry in Portugal and the factory tour of the Shell Rhineland refinery, the second largest refinery in Europe, the prevention measure "Take 2" was presented, after which you should think about it for at least 2 minutes before you take a dangerous step.



The increasing work density and the associated time pressure was also identified as a risk factor. For example, concerning the construction sector in Poland, it was demanded that in the case of tenders, it should be a condition that occupational health and safety should be a top priority and not just the price, i.e. also with subcontractors. The pharmaceutical industry in Poland reported that, by joining the European Union, there had been a major change in working and production conditions as Poland had to adapt to the rules in force in the EU. This has led to an increased number of diseases in the pharmaceutical industry in Poland.

Despite the different conditions for the handling of hazardous substances in the workplace in the countries represented, the participants agreed that unions in Europe must speak with one voice on this issue. The question of how to redefine health protection at a time when work situations are changing dramatically needs to be urgently answered. Not to be overlooked are the psychosocial risks in the workplace, e.g. stress It was also pointed out that new regulations on the handling of hazardous substances are often much more liberal than old ones, especially when it comes to automation processes.

In the concluding panel discussion, Aneta Szczykutowicz from the Nowy Staw Foundation emphasized that creating positive motivation and models for safety-oriented behaviour in companies is fundamental to raising the awareness of workers and creating a culture of prevention. Bogusław Hereć, Senior Inspector for Occupational Safety and Health ret. and company social inspector of the Azoty Pulawy Group, emphasized that for this the handling of hazardous substances must already be included in the in-company vocational training within the framework of the dual system and that regular training of the employees is fundamental. Jorge Santana of BASE-F.U.T. explained that awareness of hazardous substances and awareness of responsible use has increased over the past decades, as also has been highlighted by the works councils of Shell refinery Rhineland Detlev Hierl and Daniela Lux during the on-site meeting. The training of risk specialists in the companies, which had decades of experience and knowledge and could pass this on to younger employees, was important. Nicolas de Narkevitch of CFTC, health and safety worker at the Suez Group, used the example of his company to suggest that avoiding staff turnover, creating a corporate culture that binds workers to the company over years and decades, and gives them the feeling that being part of a family is a key prerequisite for motivation to prevent health hazards.

A key finding of the seminar was that wherever union representatives at company level were concerned with safety and health, the number of accidents decreased and awareness and prevention increased. At the end of the seminar, António Brandão Guedes, EZA project coordinator for health and safety at work, emphasized that, in addition to creating a corporate culture for safety-minded behaviour, the role of trade union representation was also to bring variable factors into the social dialogue negotiations, The success of corporate health and safety management also depends on how many hours worked per shift and whether employees are adequately trained in the safe operation of new technologies. Another challenge is the coverage of employees in small and medium-sized enterprises.


The three-day seminar in Bonn gave all participants a forum for the exchange of experience and networking between the participating employee organizations. As part of its 2019 education year, EZA will hold a series of seminars with six seminars on a variety of topical health and safety issues, centred on some of the fundamental aspects of this seminar - such as the situation in small and medium-sized enterprises and the importance of union representation at workplace level a successful safety and health management - to be continued.