EU regulation on sunlight refused by Parliament

The Parliament has, to the relief of many SMEs, rejected the proposal for an EU regulation to protect workers from sunburn. The dossier has now moved to the Council.

Council and Parliament views clash on who should regulate overexposure to sunshine to protect workers – EU or member states. Businesses find any regulation on the issue absurd. 

The directive aims for prevention and early diagnosis of damage to the eyes, together with the prevention of long-term health dangers. It lays down exposure limit values and requires employers to carry out risk assessments and to set up an action plan if a risk is identified. It also includes provisions on workers’ rights to information, training, consultation and health checks.

Council’s common position on the issue (December 2004) supports the Commission’s initial proposal, but Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), voting on the issue on 7 September 2005 disagree with the Council’s common position on a very crucial point: MEPs want to leave it up to member states and national authorities to determine if any regulation on natural radiation from the sun is necessary. 

As to radiation from artificial sources  (e.g. from lasers), the MEPs agree that the rules are best laid down at EU level, but want the Commission to draw up a practical guide to help employers, in particular managers of smaller firms, to understand the technical provisions of the directive.

The EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimir Spidla: 'It is the role of the Commission to ensure the highest protection of workers in line with both the Treaty and the existing framework of community occupational health and safety legislation. We will work together to try to find a common ground that can provide a solution acceptable to all."

European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) welcomes "the sensible approach taken by the MEPs to this directive by leaving it up to Member States to decide whether or not more obligations are necessary to regulate exposure to sunlight". It is now calling on the Council to accept the "common sense amendments" made by the European Parliament.

"Today’s vote is a victory for common sense. Imposing EU-level obligations to regulate exposure to sunlight would be unrealistic, unnecessary and would further damage the credibility of EU legislation," said UEAPME Secretary General Hans-Werner Müller.

The European Builders Confederation (EBC) had also repeatedly asked the MEPs to leave the issue to member states as "the craftsmen and construction enterprises have no responsibility for the bulk of a person’s exposure to the sun". According to an EBC statement "enterprises could be made liable by legal action brought by former workers in cases where unexplained illnesses related to sun exposure appear while it will not be possible to determine the exclusive occupational origin of exposure." Furthermore, "this kind of legislation is a clear hindrance of employment development in SMEs", said EBC President Jean Lardin. 

In 1992, the Commission presented a proposal for a directive on minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from four different physical agents: noise (risks to hearing), vibrations (risks to the hand, arm and whole body), electromagnetic fields and optical radiation (risks to health from induced currents in the body, shocks, burns and absorption of thermal energy).

In 1999, the Commission's original proposal was split into four separate directives. The directives on mechanical vibrationnoise and electromagnetic fields have already been passed. 

The proposal for a council directive on the optical radiation, under consideration since 1992, is the fourth and last separate directive of the package. The directive lays down minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from optical radiation. This covers, for example, workers exposed to long periods of solar radiation during work in the open air, those working with lasers or welding equipment and those exposed to sources of intense heat.

  • The proposal is now sent to the Council, who has three months to react to the amendments of the Parliament. If the Council accepts (highly unlikely) the Parliament's amendments, the directive is adopted. If the Council rejects (very likely) the Parliament's amendments, a conciliation committee is formed and has six to eight weeks to find a compromise solution.

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