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What does the EU do for FM?

Charlie-KortensThe UK referendum on EU membership is drawing ever closer. Regardless of whether you think leaving is a real possibility or not, “renegotiation” will certainly be a hot topic. But what could be renegotiated and how will it impact the FM industry? FMJ investigates

Trying to get any facilities manager to give an open and honest political opinion is at least theoretically possible. So it must be easier than drawing blood from a stone, though at times it doesn’t feel like it. The General Election in May was a no go topic, at least in print. But the European Union is slightly better, at least from FMJ’s point of view. 

Most FMs, with large budgets and widespread responsibilities, understanding of how business works and appreciation of co-operation, tend to support staying within the Union. That is not to say that many don’t want some changes made, and soon. But what would this entail? The EU has been publically blamed for things it is not responsible for (the European Convention on Human Rights for instance was thought up and drafted by the Council of Europe, a separate body altogether) and doesn’t get credit for its undoubted achievements (trade benefits, peace in Europe and arguably the most “free” area ever established by humanity).

So when people demand renegotiation what is it they are actually asking for?


Rather ridiculously the EU law relating to cleaning that most people are aware of is the infamous one about vacuum cleaners. But that is only a tiny fragment of a much broader strategy.

Yes last year the EU did forbid the sale of vacuum cleaners rated above 1600 watts, predictions that we would be wading knee deep through dust by now proved to be exaggerated. Shockingly.

Brussels was also forced to shelve plans to tackle air pollution across the continent, fearing that a proposed clear air directive would damage the economic recovery of several European nations. The Waste Framework Directive however aims to recycle 70 per cent of all waste produced in the EU by 2030.

On top of this the EU has published at least a dozen directives aimed at improving ambient air quality, Would anyone advocate repealing any of these (vacuums aside) were we to leave?

EU meddling in the world of health and safety has become something of a running joke over recent years. Rivalled only by political correctness in how often it seems to rile people in the most unexpected and seemingly ridiculous areas.

iStock_000013592960LargeA quick office poll reveals that some people were convinced, amongst other things, that the EU had banned toothpicks, cardboard egg boxes, trapeze artists and hanging baskets. The fact that all of these things are available at any supermarket didn’t seem to dispel these beliefs. (There is an aisle for trapeze artists, all sorts of circus performers in fact).

Things that have actually been introduced include guidelines around exposure to dangerous chemicals or physical hazards. So far so good. Slightly more bizarre is the (extremely long) report into “The increasing use of portable computing and communication devices and its impact on the health of EU workers.” Focusing on “options for management and legislation to try and compensate for the possible negative health effects of the use of portable computing and communication devices.”

116 very technical pages later and you might justifiably wonder if the EU does not have more pressing concerns. (The guidelines were written in 2010).

The EU website claims that it has improved incidences of psychological stress (excessive workloads, poor management, harassment and more) helped women, amongst other things, balance work and home life, become better represented at management level and acknowledge the realities of physical differences between the sexes. It also says that the EU-28 employment rate for people aged 55–64 years has increased from 39.9 per cent in 2003 to 50.1 per cent in 2013.

The costs of accidents at work and occupational ill health range from 2.6 per cent to 3.8 per cent of GDP according to the same site, so the benefits of this extend beyond health and into economics.

About Sarah OBeirne

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