When the social dialogue 'Agreement on workers' health protection through the good handling and use of crystalline silica and products containing it' (the NEPSI Agreement), was signed 10 years ago, who could have imagined that it would reach such a degree of recognition?
Employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility Commissioner Marianne Thyssen herself recently qualified the NEPSI Agreement as "a true testament of EU-level social dialogue in action".
The story began back in 2005 when a diverse group of industries and their social partners, concerned by potential exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) met and together formed NEPSI, the European Network on Silica, to tackle this occupational health issue.
Those discussions resulted, in 2006, in the signature of the first ever multi-sectoral social dialogue agreement in the presence of then-European Commissioner responsible for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, Vladimir Špidla.
The core of the agreement is a good practice guide containing more than 60 task sheets covering all the potentially exposed jobs in the signatory sectors.
Today, an official mention in the Commission's first proposal to amend the directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens and mutagens acknowledges the role of NEPSI's good practices as a valuable instrument to complement the regulatory requirements and to support their effective implementation.
Year on year improvements in the application of the NEPSI prevention principles and good practices are observed through the key performance indicators that the signatory sectors - the extractive, glass, ceramics, foundry industries and the construction materials, including cement, mortar and concrete producers - conscientiously report since 2006.
As chairs of the NEPSI Council, we have witnessed the determination of the 15 signatory sectors to raise awareness on the potential health effects of respirable crystalline silica dust at their workplaces and to improve the protection of their workers by applying good practices and preventing dust generation.
We are delighted and encouraged by the positive recognition received, which reinforces our desire to continue working together to enhance workers' health protection, making sure that the NEPSI Agreement continues playing a key role in facilitating compliance with the proposed European law which sets a binding occupational limit value for respirable crystalline silica dust in Annex III of the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens and mutagens directive.
Setting limit values through EU legislation is instrumental in protecting workers' health but it is the quality of implementation and enforcement that will determine whether lives are saved.
The NEPSI Agreement successfully leads to lower levels of exposure to respirable crystalline silica through the spreading of good practices.
We, as NEPSI social partners, count on the support of the European institutions to maintain and continue to develop this highly effective social dialogue agreement.