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Europe

EU Takes Heat off Exposed Workers

After much heated debate over exactly whose job it is to protect innocent European workers from inadvertently charring on the job, the EU has ruled that when it comes to the sun, it's a case of each country for itself.

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Do workers need to be saved from the sun?

At issue were the raging rays of the summer sun, the sensitivity of the human skin, and the real danger of skin cancer. Social Democratic and Greens party politicians had been pushing for legislation to make employers responsible for their employers' skins. Quite literally.

Dirndl auf der Wiesn - Galerie 3

Buxom Bavarians are good for the German beer business

But it met with blistering opposition from the press and the people, who responded with cries of concern that the tanned torsos of muscular construction workers and the curvaceous cleavage of barmaids in Bavarian beer gardens would consequently become consigned to the annals of time. Although in actual fact, the draft bill never went quite that far.

The Optical Radiation Directive, which was proposed by the executive European Commission and backed by the EU Council would have legally bound employers to monitor their workers' exposure to the sun, to assess the risks posed to them, to ensure they have access to adequate information about the risks and advise them in their choice of protective clothing.

No tan ban

But it seems that there are more members of the EU parliament who welcome flashes of summertime skin than who oppose it. With nine abstentions, the parliamentarians voted 397 to 260 against the draft bill.

It was a clear win for businesses. Hans-Werner Müller, secretary general of the lobby group for small and medium-sized businesses, UEAPME told Reuters "today's vote is a victory for common sense."

Bauarbeiter

Man at work in the midday sun

"The original proposals would create an unrealistic responsibility on employers with regard to sunlight exposure, setting a dangerous precedent in terms of future legal liability."

Germany's Social Democrats and Greens expressed disappointment at the outcome of the ballot, accusing their political opponents of merely paying lip service to health protection in the work place.

"They ignore the increase in skin cancer among employees who regularly have to work in the direct sunlight," German Social Democrat and parliamentarian Karin Jöns told German news agency dpa. She went on to say that there were more than 90,000 new cases of skin cancer reported in Germany each year.

Excessive employee protection?

Bundespressestrand in Berlin

When it comes to the sun, it's each man or woman for themselves

But such figures were not enough to endorse the ruling, which is part of a broader package of legislation designed to offer employee protection.

Irish conservative Avril Doyle issued a statement in which she described the decision to allow EU countries to make their own rulings as a show of common sense.

"If ultimately I get skin cancer through irresponsible choices despite all the health warnings, should my employers be left to carry the can?" she asked.

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  • Date 08.09.2005
  • Author DW staff (tkw)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/79IW
  • Date 08.09.2005
  • Author DW staff (tkw)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/79IW