Since the mid-1970s, there has been growing concern about the risks resulting from the use of chemical solvents, fillers and preservatives. Organic solvents are used in many industries and trades.
They are found in paints, pesticides, adhesives, lacquers, cleaning and release agents. They cause a wide range of diseases including irritation of the mucous membranes, allergies, occupational cancers, skin and lung diseases, reproductive problems, "solvent syndrome", "organic psycho syndrome" and "neurotoxic effects".The impact of spills and emissions of organic solvents into the environment is also a significant global problem.
Following a conference jointly organized by the BWI, EFBWW and NFBWW in Denmark, in 1996, guidelines were developed to define a trade union policy in BWI industries known as the Copenhagen agreement.
Affiliates have been encouraged to promote it through education activities. The BWI believes that manufacturers and suppliers of products containing solvents should provide clear information concerning the precise contents, health risks and required precautions during production, use and removal. There should be safe work practices taking into account the fact that the main forms of human exposure to solvents are through inhalation and skin contact. Work procedures should therefore aim to reduce this exposure.
The BWI also believes that the best form of prevention of serious long-term hazards is using safer alternative products containing less or no organic solvents like water-dispersed or solvent-free paints or to high solid paints. The BWI strongly supports the ratification of ILO Convention 170 concerning Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work and Recommendation 177 applying to all industries in which chemicals are used. They provide detailed regulations, including workers rights, in the handling of chemicals.
The BWI encourages its affiliates to take action to protect the health of their members at company, local and national levels by launching awareness-raising campaigns about the harmful effects of organic solvents and by encouraging testing and labelling of building materials which may emit volatile organic compounds.