With occupational cancers the primary cause of work-related deaths in the European Union (EU), occupational exposure limits (OELs) were a big topic at the recent 12th annual European Trade Union Institute seminar on chemicals and worker protection.

The 40 trade unions who attended want to coordinate action on the current revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive and called for the adoption of binding OELs for, at a minimum, the 50 carcinogens responsible for more than 80% of exposure incidents in the workplace.

Work-related cancers account for more than 100,000 deaths every year in the EU.

A step in the right direction, but...

ETUI researcher Laurent Vogel outlined the trade union position on the proposed amendment of the Directive adopted by the European Commission in May 2016, which had been discussed by one of its representatives at the seminar. Brussels was proposing introducing binding OELs for 11 new carcinogens and reducing the current OELs for two others. Worker safety advocates called it a step in the right direction but one that did not go far enough.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) wants the European Parliament and the Council to extend the scope of the Directive to include substances that were toxic to reproduction and introduce stricter limit values than those proposed by the Commission for four of the 13 carcinogens (crystalline silica, chromium VI, hardwood dust and refractory ceramic fibers).

Also at the meeting, a representative of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) presented the campaign on dangerous substances, scheduled to run from 2018 to 2019.

REACH and risk management

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) discussed the contribution of the REACH and CLP Regulations to the knowledge of the chemicals sold in Europe and risk management for workers exposed to chemicals in the various industrial sectors.

Some of the other points that resulted in lively debates included the complex and multifaceted problem of worker exposure to fumigation products used to protect goods during intercontinental transport, the role of the trade unions in drawing up standard ISO 45001 on occupational health and safety management systems, and the identification criteria for endocrine disruptors recently proposed by the Commission.

Selection of presentations:

Trade Union Campaign against Work related Cancers – an update, Laurent Vogel, European Trade Union Institute (pdf - 458.21 Kb)

Amendment of the carcinogens & mutagens directive, Alick Morris, European Commission. (pdf - 1.12 Mb)

REACH & CLP implementation, Bridget Ginnity, European Chemicals Agency. (pdf - 2.35 Mb)

Update on Agency work, Elke Schneider, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. (pdf - 1.04 Mb)

Trade Unions and standards, Frank Barry, Irish Congress of Trade Unions. (pdf - 674.22 Kb)

Transported goods chemical exposures. A case of management of complex issues at national and EU levels, Mathieu Lassus, ministère français du Travail. (pdf - 2.12 Mb)

EU Policy on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. State of Play & NGO View, Lisette van Vliet, Health & Environment Alliance. (pdf - 1.34 Mb)