A union representing European workers is pleased with what it says is an important move toward reducing occupational cancers.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs voted late last month to amend the European Commission’s proposal for a directive amending Directive 2004/37/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work.

The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) says a particularly important amendment relates to reprotoxics, which can reduce fertility, cause miscarriage and birth defects and lead to serious health problems for children such as cancer, developmental disorders and learning delays.

At present, millions of workers in Europe are exposed to reprotoxics.

Another key amendment relates to the occupational exposure limit (OEL) for crystalline silica, which is to be set at 50 μg/m3 instead of the 100 μg/m3 proposed by the Commission and pro-industry lobbyists, although a 10 year transitional period is planned for Member States which do not wish to impose the OEL immediately.

Other substances which pose a risk to the health of millions of European workers also feature in the amendments voted through on 28 February. Parliament recommends adopting an OEL of 2 mg/m3 for all wood dusts (with a five-year transitional period), and an OEL of 1 μg/m3 for chromium (VI) instead of the 25 μg/m3 proposed by the Commission and industry.

Additional amendments relate to the need to ensure that all workers exposed to carcinogens are entitled to early detection screening.

“The vote is merely one step on the long journey towards adoption of a directive which will allow many more thousands of lives to be saved each year than the minimalist proposals put forward by the Commission and lobbied for by industry,” according to the ETUI.

Most of the amendments were approved by a very large majority (up to 85% of votes).

Parliament will vote on the amendments at its plenary session in April 2017, and the final text will then be negotiated between Parliament and the Council. The ETUI believes the fact that the parliamentary report was voted through by 38 votes to 6 suggests that the balance of opinion is in favor of making significant changes to the legislative proposal.

Further reading:

Vogel L., Cancer at work: more needs to be done to achieve better legislation, HesaMag 14, autumn-winter 2016 (pdf - 318.88 Kb)