Tag Archives: European Union

Survey reveals varied approach to risk communication across the EU

A survey of EU Member States and six other countries has shown that the practice of risk communication varies widely from one country to another. The authors of the resulting report call for an annual forum to exchange good practice.
Among risk experts, risk communication is regarded as being at the heart of the risk management process. In 2002, the International Organisation for Standardisation agreed a definition of risk communication as the ‘exchange or sharing of information about risk between the decision-maker and other stakeholders’.
To assess whether this definition reflected risk communication in practice, the STARC (Stakeholders in Risk Communication) consortium, a project supported by the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), surveyed the EU 25 Member States and six other countries – Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the US on their risk communication use and practice.
First, countries were surveyed to see whether they followed any legal requirements for risk communications to the public. The majority of countries had compulsory guidelines, while a small minority had no such provisions. Denmark’s approach was representative. There, each authority is responsible for providing information to the public in case of a crisis within their own area. The Danish model places a strong emphasis on providing true and timely information to the public and media.
Some countries left the broadcast of public warning messages to media organisations. However, a few countries – Germany, Portugal and Sweden – based their legal frameworks around the EU’s Seveso II directive on the control of major-accident hazards. This directive defines communications as conveying information to the public and interaction with the stakeholders. The authors of the report suggest more countries should put specific legal frameworks around this area, using the EU Directive as a foundation.
The majority of countries surveyed do not require companies listed on a stock exchange to include in their annual reports a survey on risk assessment and how they are managing risks. Of those countries that do have such requirements, Finland’s response could be considered representative. Finland requires regulated industries such as telecoms, energy supply, health care, banking and insurance, water supply, and transportation to supply details of risk communication and management.
In the province of Québec, industries must make an inventory of risks to the public and to provide it to the municipal and/or provincial government, under the civil protection act of Québec.
Almost all respondents said that ‘risky’ industries must provide the public with an assessment of the risks they face, and how they manage those risks. Austria, Estonia and Greece were the only countries to ones to have no such legislation. Respondents cited the chemical, pharmaceutical, nuclear, energy industry and oil and gas industries and/or those covered by the Seveso II directive as ‘risky industries’.
According to the survey, risk communication provisions generally exist as part of an overall risk management plan. Only a few countries, namely UK, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia had or were in the process of developing stand-alone communication plans. The authors of the report recommend that a combination of generic and specific guidelines should be adopted. As an example of good practice, they pointed to the UK, which comprises sector specific risk communication plans, as well as generic advice. Few countries have anything comparable, they say.
Although the results of the survey reveal some common trends, some questions proved more divisive. Equal numbers of respondents indicated that risk communication started at three distinct stages. They were at the pre-assessment and assessment stages; after the assessment stage, when the different risk management options are being considered; and after an option has been chosen.
In analysing the responses, the authors of the report believed the first option to be best practice, noting that a consultation would enable stakeholders, including the public, to provide information that might not otherwise come to light from the experts. ‘It is important, of course, that deciding on how to manage a risk takes into account the views and opinions of stakeholders so that the decision has some prospect of social and political acceptability,’ reads the report.
Indeed the role of stakeholders in risk communication is deemed an important issue, and a sizeable chunk of the survey is dedicated to addressing their role. Specifically, respondents were asked whether they sought out the views of stakeholders and whether those comments were made public. While almost all respondents said that they welcomed the views of stakeholders and civil society organisations, only nine countries said that their plans contained specific provision to identify these actors. As for making stakeholder views public, half of respondents said that their risk management plans included provisions to post public consultations on particular hazards.
According to the authors of the report, creating closer links with stakeholders should not be regarded as a bureaucratic necessity, but one that serves to strengthen risk management generally and the acceptance of a decision about how best to manage a particular risk. ‘Actively encouraging all relevant stakeholders to participate will also avoid the risk that a few stakeholders with vested interests achieve regulatory capture,’ they say.
Given the differences in approaches to and practices of risk communication, the report recommends a structured forum for EU Member States in which to exchange views on good practice. ‘We do not think it is practical or desirable to force harmonisation of risk communication practices on member states, nevertheless, an exchange of experiences about what has worked and what hasn’t in what situations would presumably lead to improved risk communication, better consultation with stakeholders and improved co-ordination, both horizontally and vertically, especially between governments,’ reads the report.
The report goes on to note that while there is significant risk communication expertise in Europe, a forum could benefit from the expertise of some other non-EU countries, such as Australia and Canada.
The report concludes by recommending that European Commission initiate a forum of risk managers and risk communication practitioners, from but not limited to, governments. It would also be useful to invite similar representatives from ‘risky’ industries, suggests the report.
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Italian Speaker remembers Seveso

(AGI) – Rome, Jul 10 – Speaker of the House Fausto Bertinotti sent the following message to national secretary Rino Pavanello at the convention organised by the “Environment and Work” association: “Thirty years after the fateful date of July 10, 1976, the tragedy of Seveso still arouses feelings of dismay, regret and worry in all of us. The accident which took place in the Meda ICMESA establishment, with terrible consequences for the people of various other towns in Brianza, was a real environmental disaster, the consequences of which can be seen by all of us even today in the health condition of people and the ecosystem’s equilibrium. In sending out our most sincere solidarity to all the people involved in the tragic accident, it is necessary to speak of the commitment by institutions in creating more rigorous and exigent policies for work security and the respecting of higher standards of environmental protection. The activities of some Italian industrial plants still show high levels of risk today which must be monitored continuously. After Seveso, our country and the whole of Europe have the duty to use all the necessary instruments so that such calamities do not repeat themselves. I give my more cordial greeting and my best wishes to the present authorities and everyone who participated for the best possible result of today’s initiative.” (AGI) .

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European Parliament calls for UN special rapporteurs on Bhopal

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for
UN special rapporteurs to visit Bhopal in order to examine and assess the effects of Union Carbide’s activities, including the 1984 disaster and subsequent poisoning of water by toxic chemicals abandoned by the company in its now-derelict factory.

The resolution calls on the Governments of India and Madhya Pradesh to ensure the prompt decontamination and clean up of the Union Carbide factory site, and to ensure a regular and adequate supply of safe water to affected communities as ordered by the Indian Supreme Court and to ensure adequate and accessible healthcare for all survivors.

The parliament also called for a reassessment of the compensation received by victims under the 1989 settlement.

The resolution is to be forwarded to the Governments of India and Madhya Pradesh and to the Dow Chemical Company.

Draft resolution here.

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Now Euro MPs tell Dow, ‘He who pollutes must pay’

Dow must have imagined nobody would notice. Or mused that if your double standards are brazen enough, no one will point them out. From Kathy Hunt’s doe-eyed “but they don’t have Superfund over there, do they?” to Michael Parker’s dead-behind-the-eyes suggestion that the beggarly compensation money intended for gas survivors – yes, you read that correctly, gas survivors – should be used to clean up Carbide’s crime, ‘polluter pays’ was only something you did when you couldn’t possibly get away with it. Well it’s starting to look like Dow can’t. Having Congress on your back about it is bad enough, throw in the European parliament and it’s beginning to look like it might not be your year.

On September 24th members of the Green/FEA group announced that they would be “joining in the action that the members of the US Congress have started against the firm DOW.”

Press Statement

The Green / Free European Alliance

Strasbourg, September 24th, 2003

From Bhopal to Toulouse: no forgetting.

Two years after the Toulouse catastrophe, The Green / FEA group at the European Parliament, welcomed a delegation of victims of the Bhopal disaster (25000 dead, 50000 wounded) during the Parliamentary session of September 2003. At the end of the meeting, the group The Green / FEA pledged to support the fight of the Bhopal victims by joining in the action that the members of the US Congress have started against the firm DOW. The Green / FEA group will demand that the European Commission and the European Council implement all means necessary to give all citizens of Bhopal access to drinking water.

Nearly twenty years after the tragedy, justice hasn’t yet cast full light on the accident, thus delaying the right compensation of victims. While the European Union is discussing the question of environmental responsibility, while the debates at the European Council may weaken, yet a little more, the text voted by the European Parliament, it is indispensable to recall the obligations of the industrialists who work in high-risk sectors.

To enforce the principle ” polluter-payer ” (he who pollutes shall pay) is essential to ensure that justice is done and that industrial disasters victims are compensated. Moreover, the pollution of the soil and ground water, aggravated by systematic dumping of toxic products by DOW Union Carbide, keeps causing serious health problems and congenital malformations. No compensation often means not being able to get treatment. It must be said that in Bhopal, medical care is in a large extent, given freely thanks to determined actors of the Indian civil society, such as Satinath Sarangi wo runs the Sambhavna Clinic : there, treatment is provided freely to survivors. For nearly twenty years now, the environmental catastrophe has been followed by a health disaster.

In the background, the question of a policy of chemicals emerges. The report of Inger Schorling Swedish Green European MP- shows the limits of goodwill in a sector which could be tempted, should a more severe legislation be adopted, to transfer part of its activities to countries unable by lack of means- to enforce such strict laws.

Marie Anne Isler Béguin

Inger Schorling

Paul Lannoye

Members of The Green / FEA goup at the European Parliament

Translation by Carmela Pizarroso (Toulouse)

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