Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tobacco smoke and discrimination against workers' representatives: new threats to health and safety at work

One of our most important rights in the workplace is our right to be healthy and safe. Yet each year, 168,000 people in Europe die and a further 300,000 suffer permanent disability from work-related accidents and diseases.

So one of my proudest achievements as an MEP is the report I steered through the European Parliament on the EU's Health and Safety Strategy. I was delighted when this was officially adopted as Parliament's response at the beginning of 2008.

Parliament welcomed the 5-year target to reduce accidents at work by a quarter. But I called for the strategy to go much further than that. We also needed policies and targets to reduce work-related diseases, such as musculo-skeletal disorders, cancer, and mental illness. And we needed to focus on workers who were at risk of work-related health problems or accidents, such as young and ageing workers, migrant workers, and temporary agency workers.

Four years on, Parliament is now debating a review of the EU's Health and Safety Strategy. Progress has certainly been made, but we still need to press the European Commission to do more to track the changes in work-related accidents and illnesses, so that we can be sure we are meeting our targets for 2012. We also need to keep pushing for protection for the most at-risk workers.

The review is also a good time to raise awareness of new threats. I will be putting down an amendment on tobacco smoke at work. Despite all the progress we have made on smoking, we still do not enjoy comprehensive protection from tobacco smoke in the workplace. Tobacco is the biggest cause of preventable illness today, killing 114,000 people a year in the UK and 650,000 people across Europe. With this amendment, we are calling for action to protect our right to smoke-free air at work.

I will also be putting forward an amendment on 'blacklisting' and other forms of discrimination against workers and their representatives. It has been shown that health and safety is improved when workers have proper representation, allowing employees to take part in promoting health and safety at work. But recently, I have heard from people in my constituency and from members of the Blacklist Support Group who have been blacklisted and refused employment for representing their co-workers in this way. I am calling for a change in European law to put a stop to this.

As well as improving our quality of life, better health and safety is good business. It leads to higher performance from employees and lower costs for both the employer and the taxpayer. So neither the economic crisis nor the Government's spending cuts are a reason to forget about health and safety at work: it is now more important than ever.

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