Although the use of dangerous substances is either prohibited, limited or under a strict regulatory control, around 38% of companies in the EU use them on a regular basis, causing a potential effect on workers’ health – induced lung diseases, allergic diseases, poisoning or even malignant tumours. Large enterprises usually use more than 1000 different chemicals and compounds, such as paints, lacquers, glue, cleaning agents etc. Therefore employees depending on their responsibilities may come in contact with hundreds of various hazardous substances.

As noted by Renars Lusis, director of the State Labour Inspectorate of Latvia (SLI), at this moment only a part of Latvian enterprises have comprehended the issue: “Still, at companies, especially, micro and small sized, essential safety problems can be observed – hazardous substances are stored in unlabelled containers, food or drink bottles, or in an open form.  In these cases workers unnecessarily inhale hazardous substances or even get injured by accidently drinking them.” As director of SLI pointed out, replacing dangerous substances with less harmful ones or change of technological process are rare, however, such solutions not only are beneficial to workers’ health, but are also economically advantageous – employees get sick less frequently and costs related to mandatory health checks and other work safety measures decrease.

Occupational physician Ivars Vanadzins, director of Institute for Occupational Safety and Environmental Health, points out that more often in workplaces presence of hazardous substances is observed than official statistics show: “In Latvia, occupational diseases caused by physical overload are on the top of official statistics of occupational diseases for many years, however, diseases caused by effects of hazardous substances are often not identified as occupational diseases. For instance, several types of malignant tumours, skin and respiratory allergies caused by the use of hazardous substances in workplace are among diseases that can be prevented by taking preventive measures in long term. It is essential for each employer to be aware of potential health issues to their employees caused by hazardous substances used in the workplace, and it can be best achieved with qualitative risk evaluation of workplace environment.”

In 2018-2019 campaign launched by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) employers and workers in all EU member states will be introduced to several measures to be taken in workplaces aimed at limiting the effect of hazardous substances on workers’ health and safety. During the campaign Latvian enterprises will be called upon to take part in various activities, including seminars, conferences, good practice award competitions etc. A guidebook and study materials with detailed information and guidance on risk prevention will be available. Also, companies will be invited to campaign partnership, helping to shed light on the good practice and encouraging other employers in proactive approach to protect their employees.

In Latvia the campaign was launched at the premises of JSC Grindeks – a pharmaceutical company which already in 2003 received the Good Practice Award in work safety for improving working conditions within a company by eradicating exposure to harmful substances. The Chairman of the Board of JSC Grindeks Juris Bundulis tells that company’s operations are based on its mission – to care for human health: “The concept of “human” for us not only is our patient, but also those who foster the company’s growth – our employees, and working conditions to threaten their health are not tolerated. Grindeks is a pharmaceutical manufacturer with strictly regulated occupational health and safety policy where occupational health and safety specialists are continuously monitoring risks of work environment and taking preventive measures thereby eliminating situations that might have negative effect on workers’ health.”

More on campaign: https://healthy-workplaces.eu/lv