Brussels, 08 Feb 2006
European industrial accidents cause an injury every eight seconds, and a death every two hours. These alarming statistics were called 'astonishing and unacceptable', by Janez Potocnik, the EU Commissioner for Science and Research, who echoed Esko Aho's recent call for drastic action to boost EU research, development and innovation, while addressing the European Technology Platform for Industrial Safely (ETPIS) General Assembly on 7 February. ETPIS aims to increase safety at work, and has strong support from the European Commission.
As the ETPIS chairman Richard Gowland explained: 'Our vision is to have improved by 25 per cent the numbers of reported accidents, environmental diseases, environmental incidents and accident-related production losses. We want to develop an incident elimination culture where safety is embedded.' The platform will work by spreading best practise fluidly throughout the industry, to increase global knowledge on risk assessment, advanced risk reduction technologies, structural safety, human and organisational factors and emerging risks, while driving down the absolute number of risks, making industry safer.
The speakers were all keen to point out that minimising risk produces fewer injuries and off-days, which in turn delivers greater efficiency and therefore productivity. Estimates put the cost of industrial accidents and occupational diseases at between 2.6 and 3.8 per cent of the GDP of the EU15 countries. This exceeds the budget for the Commission's Framework Programmes for research.
Bernhard Jensen from the Commission's Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities DG pointed out that for the new EU Member States, the average incidence of industrial accidents is 2.5 times higher than for the old EU15. 'The directorate general is aware that concurrent legislation is not sufficient and needs to involve all players at all levels,' he said.
Christos Tokamanis, head of unit for products, processes and organisation within the Commission's Research DG applauded the platform, pointing out that 'Research has never been approached with a holistic system to improve the whole industry before. The vision proposed - accident and disease-free - is something we all want to work towards. The relevance is in-line with what the Commission would like to propose. ETPIS could work across a number of FP7 [Seventh Framework Programme] fields, with an objective to improve competitiveness of the EU and ensure transformation.'
Jacques Autin from the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) and Richard Robson from CEFIC's responsible care programme gave examples from the chemical sector of successful initiatives already running, that ETPIS could learn from.
Stefano Boy from the European Trade Union Confederation spoke about the need for risk levels to be set appropriately. 'Who should set the standards of tolerable and intolerable risk levels?' he asked.
Commissioner Potocnik echoed Mr Tokamanis' words on the platform tallying with the aims of FP7: 'This platform fits well into the EU strategy. We need to create markets to encourage innovative technologies in the EU. More investment in research and innovation, harmonised property rights, taxes and public procurement are extremely important,' said the Commissioner.
'We need to shift attention to the long term with visionary, courageous policies. I believe we are moving too slowly and losing out to emerging economies. For EU research, the framework programmes are essential for jobs and growth. Spend on research and development is not a cost but an investment. 3 per cent of GDP to be spent on research and development is not a target but an indicator. Some members invest as little as 0.5 per cent. This is why we have only two economic targets - 3 per cent of GDP to spend on research and development, and 70 per cent employment. Both are indicators of economic health,' he said, echoing the recommendations made by the Aho group in their paper, published in January.
When asked to what extent the commission had adopted the Aho group's recommendations, Commissioner Potocnik told CORDIS news: 'We have already adopted some of the recommendations of the Aho report, for example in the development of leading markets.'
'Health and safety at work is one of prime importance,' he said. 'We cannot drop standards on health and safety, which is just as important as environmental protection. EU industry must join forces and work together. ETPIS is a good way to do this. FP7 must provide tools and resources which have a genuinely EU dimension and industrial presence. Budget constraints of FP7 mean we rely on you - industry. It is also important to see trading partners playing their part at the national and regional levels. I believe this is crucial. Here today the Commission is positive, and will support such technology projects to the limit our resources will allow,' he said.