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CESI meets with EU-OSHA over OSH concerns of nurses working with dangerous substances

On 18 February a CESI delegation met with EU-OSHA Executive Director Christa Sedlatschek to discuss OSH concerns of nurses working with dangerous substances.

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The health sector plays a key role in ensuring good public health and a high quality of life for European citizens. Despite the undisputable importance of healthcare providers for society, many workers who provide the care needed do not have access to a sufficient level of protection at work when dealing with dangerous substances, carcinogens and radiation. Every year, too many workers are exposed to dangerous medication and radiation (over 20 million a year EU-wide) and are affected by carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances.

Although the EU recognises that dangerous substances represent an important chemical risk factor in health care, there is no legislation in Europe that specifically addresses the risks posed to healthcare personnel. CESI’s Spanish affiliate SATSE, in a campaign launched last year, has been a front-runner in highlighting this loophole to the Spanish government and the EU institutions.

Esther Reyes Diez, affiliate of SATSE and President of the CESI trade council ‘Health’, stated: “While EU and national member state legislation may provide protection in the workplace against a wide variety of hazardous substances, there is no legislation to address the issue of dangerous medication. EU-OSHA considers these as some of the most important chemical factors in health. More protection must be offered to those that protect and care for us.”

Javier Jordan de Urries, affiliate of CESI’s member CSIF and President of CESI’s commission ‘Employment and Social Affairs’, highlighted that exposure to dangerous substances is of fundamental importance for the entire health sector as well as for law enforcement, emergency, fire and civil protection services. Encarna Abascal, the Health and Security Secretary within CSIF, emphasised the importance of introducing a gender perspective when assessing the health and safety and security sectors. Many studies show that there are different outcomes for men and women exposed to dangerous subtances. Ms Abascal also presented the CSIF campaigns on the impact of dangerous substances on firefighters.

The importance of the exchange of good practices within the EU was emphasised by SATSE spokesperson María Carmen Vide, who gave concrete examples. José Antonio de Leniz Aspiazu, a representative of SATSE in the Spanish Euskadi region, referred in particular to the importance of “providing real protection to healthcare professionals, many of them being vulnerable nurses and care-givers responsible for the preparation and the administration of the amount of dangerous drugs in their daily work.”

Given the evidence provided and the state of play of EU legislation in the field, pleas for a revision to the 2004/37/EC directive on carcinogens and mutagens to address the issue of health and safety for medical staff dealing with dangerous medicines at work are increasing.

Through its trade council ‘Health’, CESI encourages its member organisations to invest in information and training campaigns for their workers to better mitigate risks in the workplace. More coordinated efforts are also needed at national level for better regulations, and a more stringent application of labor law. In this context, the forthcoming European Labour Authority may play an important role.

Last but not least, patients and their family might be affected by dangerous medication. For this reason, the overall recommendation of CESI and its members lies in raising awareness for existing threats, improving the control for the use of dangerous substances, and, if possible,  falling back on less dangerous substances.

In a statement following the visit of the CESI delegation to EU-OSHA, CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger underlined that more investment is needed to ensure adequate protection and care for care providers.