Report on the conference

Report on the Toxic Chemicals – Risk prevention through use reduction

On Friday 25th February Greater Manchester Hazards Centre organised a conference ‘Toxic Chemicals – Risk prevention through use reduction. The conference was held online and the speakers included: Bud Hudspith the National health and safety advisor for Unite Union, Dan Shears National health, safety and environment director for GMB union, Prof. Andy Watterson an occupational health expert from Stirling University and Hilda Palmer from the UK Hazards Campaign. A copy of the recording and presentations given can be found at:

Recording of the conference with presentations and discussion:

Hilda Palmer – Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, FACK facilitator and Hazards Campaign Presentation

TUR paper


Bud Hudspith – Unite National health and safety advisor


Union workplaces are safer workplaces - Fix the Hazards - Don’t Blame the Victims

Unite dust info

Unite silica info

Prof. Andrew Waterson – Occupational health expert Stirling university


Dan Shears – GMB National health, safety and environment director:


For decades, Greater Manchester Hazards Centre has supported and worked with tens of thousands of workers across the UK, in hundreds of workplaces across all sectors and types of workplace, working closely with all the unions. A major part of our work has always been on preventing and reducing workers’ exposure to chemicals by elimination, substitution and altering processes

Toxic Use Reduction is about reducing the amount and number of toxic substances to which workers are exposed based on their hazards. This can be achieved by eliminating the most hazardous substances and processes and substituting safer chemicals and redesigned processes. All that should be done under COSHH. However we recognise the limitations of COSHH which is poorly enforced and many of employers are ignoring their legal duties. As Hilda says, workers are the canaries in the mine. They are exposed first to toxic substances they are exposed the most, and usually thought about and protected last. But they also have the capacity to organise to change this.

In organising the conference we wanted to put the focus on supporting trade union and workers’ action to eliminate and reduce exposure to all toxic substances at work to improve workers’ health and those of other family members, Approaching 100,000 chemicals are used in workplaces worldwide. Barely 1 in a 100 has been thoroughly tested for health risks. Over 50 substances are rated by the United Nations' International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a definite or probable cancer risk at work. Over 100 more are IARC rated as a possible cancer risk.

There were a number of useful suggestions made at the conference by those who attended that we will add and inform our original work plan:

1. Campaigning in particular, in Scotland and Wales for TUR legislation which will encourage employers to address and reduce the chemicals being used and highlight good practise.

2. Encourage and work with trade unions to reinvigorate campaigns to reduce workers exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace.

3. Encourage the TUC / unions to review TU courses on COSHH and include TUR and other practical alternatives

4. Produce a simple checklist of actions that trade union reps can carry out in their workplaces

Following the conference GMHC will also be:

· Compiling a priority list of most common problems safety reps identify- hazardous chemicals and jobs/processes in which they are used, including information on toxicity (e.g. mutagens, endocrine disrupting chemicals, reproductive toxins, carcinogens, allergens, irritants, sensitisers);

· Working with unions to analyse policies and procedures currently operating and discuss how to refine or change these policies and practices to ensure a structure for addressing current and future toxics problems can be developed.

· Developing case studies that show the harm these substances/jobs cause, safer substitutes that are available, how jobs could be made safer, linking to research and safe substitutions that work in practice.

· Developing tools for safety reps to use in their workplaces on principles of TUR, assess extent of the problems, harms caused and how to tackle them, ensuring COSHH assessments are resulting in a hierarchy of control that TUR and safer substitutions.

· Developing and deliver training in using the tools, case studies and COSHH in applying a TUR workplace approach.

Janet Newsham

Coordinator Greater Manchester Hazards Centre

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