Chemicals are essential for modern life, but can be a danger to workers. Some of these dangers are well known, others less so. Ideally, the exposure of workers to dangerous substances should be eliminated, but often chemicals have to be managed in the workplace, just like any workplace hazard, to reduce the risk to workers.
A chemical is defined by ILO Convention no. 170 (1990) on safety in the use of chemicals at work as "chemical elements and compounds, and their mixtures, whether natural or synthetic such as those obtained through production process". Hazardous chemicals are classified according to the type and degree of their intrinsic health and physical hazards.
Use of chemicals at work is defined by the same Convention as any work activity which may expose a worker to a chemical, including during the production, handling, storage, transport, and disposal of chemicals.
The human cost of failing to protect workers is terrible. The ILO estimates that about 2 300 000 people - men, women, and children - die every year from work-related accidents and diseases. In Europe, more than 5 500 people lose their lives as a result of workplace accidents and a further 159,000 die as a result of work-related illnesses.
The victims of poor working conditions extend beyond the workers themselves, They include the families of the workers lost, who not only suffer emotional trauma but also may be left in a precarious financial position due to the loss of income.
An assessment-based practical approach to workplace prevention, with management showing commitment and leadership to running their business safely and healthily, and with workers engaged in the prevention process can lead to better business, reduced costs to society - and a lower death toll.
Since February 2014, EU-OSHA has been working on a project funded under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The project will run until January 2016 and aims to involve ENP partner countries in the work of the Agency by establishing a single contact point in each country to provide a platform for sharing information with the local safety and health network.