January 19, 2006
Keep your shirt on? It’s not law in Canada - yet
Last year, the European Parliament (EP) was at loggerheads over controversial legislation intended to protect outdoor workers — including construction workers — from exposure to sunlight.
The so-called “sunshine directive” would have made it illegal for workers to wear shorts or to take off their shirts, and would have made employers responsible for taking measurements of UV exposure and ensuring workers had applied sunscreen effectively.
Opponents billed the proposed regulation as the “tan ban,” pointing out that the rules would not only affect the construction industry, but also restrict Bavarian barmaids known for wearing outfits with plunging necklines. But, while British construction unions were up in (bare) arms over the proposal, the idea had broad support among members of the British Socialist and Labour parties.
“British construction worker unions did not support the inclusion of sunlight in the directive as this would have resulted in considerable restrictions to British workers in their daily work in terms of working hours and protective equipment,” says Vic Angell, a researcher for British MEP, James Elles, who spearheaded opposition to the proposed regs.
A coalition of conservative MEPs worked to successfully pass a compromise bill in February that would see regulations limited to artificial sources of light. That doesn’t mean, however, that the idea has lost its appeal among individual members of the European Community.
“Having suffered a fair deal of ridicule over this matter, it is very unlikely that they will come back with any such suggestion, at least for a while,” says Lauren Knott, Research Assistant to Philip Bushill-Matthews, MEP. “But countries can always go beyond the provisions stipulated in an EU directive and toughen up national legislation. This process is affectionately known as ‘gold-plating’.”
Most Canadian stakeholders, including the Canadian Cancer Society, encourage workers to take personal responsibility for natural ultraviolet radiation exposure, recommending sun screens, the use of personal protective equipment and limiting sunlight exposure to reduce skin cancer risks. However, the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Radiation Protection Committee, which reports to Health Canada, has recommended that “provincial and territorial labour authorities adopt or develop exposure standards to prevent overexposure of workers to solar and artificial UVR.”
“Essentially the FPT committee puts forward recommendations that the provinces review and they can incorporate them into their guidelines as they see fit,” says Health Canada spokesperson Paul Duchesne.
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