Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report




Presidency draft of a Council Directive on the minimum health and
safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to risks arising
from physical agents

Legal base: Article 137 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 7 December 2000
Previous Committee Report: HC 34-xiii (1998-99), paragraph 7 (17 March 1999), HC 34-xviii (1998-99), paragraph 5 (5 May 1999), and HC 23-xxx (1999-2000), paragraph 10 (22 November 2000)
Discussed in Council: 28 November 2000
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared (decision reported on 5 May 1999)


  7.1  In our Report of 17 March 1999, we noted that the Government was — like the previous Government — opposed to a proposal[22] put forward by the Commission in 1993 to harmonise requirements for protecting workers against a range of physical agents (such as noise, vibration, optical radiation, and non-ionising electro-magnetic vibration). However, in March 1999 the then German Presidency put forward a text which would restrict the scope of the proposal to protection against vibration, and although the Government remained unconvinced as to the justification for including whole body vibration within the proposal, it recognised the existence of an established link between exposure and hand-arm vibration syndrome. The nature of that link was dealt with more fully in a Regulatory Impact Assessment of 29 April 1999; and, as we noted in our Report of 5 May 1999, this showed in the case of hand-arm vibration a cost:benefit ratio of between 3.5 and 7, with comparable figures for whole body vibration of between 7 and 21.

  7.2  In clearing the document, we noted that, although the Government clearly had reservations about the inclusion of protection against whole body vibration in the current proposal, there also seemed likely to be a substantial gap between the benefits of protecting against hand-arm vibration and the costs to which the measure proposed would give rise. However, we also noted that the Government considered such a measure would help the Health and Safety Executive secure compliance with its existing programme of guidance.

  7.3  We subsequently received a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 17 November 2000 from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty). He pointed out that the text previously brought forward by the German Presidency had recently been under further discussion in a Council working group, but that the French Presidency would be seeking, without full agreement, to obtain political agreement at a Council meeting scheduled for 27-28 November. He said that, whilst the UK had continued to express support for the principle of a Directive concentrating on vibration (but not the other elements in the original 1993 proposal), it remained concerned about the inclusion of whole body vibration, although it was "prepared to negotiate provisions which reflected the scientific uncertainties". According to the Minister, whilst a number of useful changes had been made to the text, it still contained unacceptable provisions on whole body vibration, both in terms of the setting of a limit and the transitional period allowed for existing equipment. He also said that the changes negotiated so far had reduced the cost:benefit ratios shown in paragraph 7.1 above to between 1.3 and 4 in the case of hand-arm vibration, and to between 3.5 and 15 for whole body vibration.

Minister's letter of 7 December 2000

  7.4  We have now received from the Minister a letter of 7 December 2000, letting us know that on 28 November the Council reached a unanimous political agreement, which includes provisions on whole-body vibration. However, he adds that the relevant exposure limits have been reduced as compared with earlier versions of the proposal, and that the transition periods for compliance have been increased, with the introduction for the first time of a transition period (of 9 years) for agriculture and forestry equipment. As a result of these changes, he now puts the cost:benefit ratio for this part of the proposal as between 2.5 and 10, whilst that for hard-arm vibration would now be between 1.1 and 2.5.

  7.5  The Minister concludes by saying that the negotiations have successfully reduced the burdens of this measure on industry to as low as could be achieved in relation to the undoubted benefits for health and safety. The Government considers the Directive, which now goes to the European Parliament for the second reading stage of the co-decision process, to be a major step forward in ensuring the health and safety of workers using powered hand-tools, and that full compliance with it should result in the virtual elimination of hand-arm vibration syndrome as an industrial disease.


  7.6  Since we have already cleared this document, we are simply noting this further development and drawing it to the attention of the House.

22  (14430) 5059/93 and (15504) 8392/94; see HC 79-xxv (1992-93), paragraph 5 (21 April 1993), HC 48-xxvi (1993-94), paragraph 11 (19 October 1994) and HC 51-xi (1995-96), paragraph 6 (28 February 1996). Back

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Prepared 29 December 2000