22nd May 2019

Sunlight ruled out from EU workers' protection law

MEPs have ruled against common EU standards for the protection of workers against sunlight, suggesting individual member states should decide on their own whether to require employers to introduce such measures or not.

The plenary in Strasbourg supported the health and safety directive on optical radiation as a whole on Wednesday (7 September), but MEPs voted down a proposal that the measures included in it should also cover natural source of radiation - sunlight.

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The bill is the last of a series of four directives aimed at protecting workers from the dangers of "physical agents", with rules on noise, vibrations, and electromagnetic fields already in place.

While a complete exclusion of sunlight from the scope of the optical radiation directive was missed by six votes, MEPs gave their absolute majority (397) approval to the compromise adopted by the parliament's social affairs committee, which refers to national governments to dealing with it.

The ball is now in the Council's court: all the amendments adopted by the parliament must receive unanimous support by member states, otherwise there will have to be a reconciliatory procedure between the three EU policy and decision-making bodies.

Both the council and commission have previously suggested they will oppose the wipe-out of the sunlight-related provisions.

Socialists and Greens disappointed

The centre-right parliamentary group (EPP-ED) has welcomed the vote.

"It is foolish to make European laws on the protection of workers against overexposure to sunshine. The situation in Greece is totally different than in Finland, for example," commented MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten from EPP-ED.

Industry lobbies also expressed their delight over the vote.

The European builders confederation suggested in a press release that its result "brings a great relief to the craftsmen and SMEs of the construction sector in Europe. For several months, they have indeed been warning the MEPs of the nonsense of such a directive".

Small firms had been particularly concerned about the obligations - enforced by the directive - to evaluate the risks to their employees of being exposed to sunlight.

On the other hand, the socialist and green MEPs expressed their disappointment following the vote.

Jean Lambert, UK Green coordinator of the employment committee, said "Today's vote is a blow to workers across Europe. Skin cancer is the same regardless of whether you catch it from artificial or natural radiation, so by voting to exclude natural radiation from the directive, the conservatives and liberals have tried to undermine European health and safety standards".

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