European Union (EU) legislators are considering adding or updating five binding occupational exposure limit values (OELs) to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD), in an effort to decrease the number of occupational cancers that cause more than 100 000 deaths a year in the EU.

At a recent European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) annual seminar in Brussels on workers’ protection and chemicals, ETUI researchers, Laurent Vogel and Tony Musu reported that the ongoing revision may include Trichloroethylene , Ethylene dichloride, 4,4'-Methylenedianiline, Epichlorohydrine and Ethylene dibromide. New or updated OELs for 13 carcinogens were adopted in 2017.

A binding OEL for Diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEE) might also be included in the CMD depending on the outcome of the trialogue discussion to be held under the Austrian Presidency between the European Parliament, the Council and the EU Commission. European trade unions are very supportive of the European Parliament’s amendment since over 3.6 million workers are exposed to DEEE within the EU-28. According to the Commission’s impact assessment, the lack of legislation prohibiting exposure to diesel engine exhausts at work will result in 230,000 deaths in the EU between 2010 and 2069.

Some 40 trade union members from across Europe attended the seminar. In her opening speech, Marian Schaapman, Head of the European Trade Union Institute’s Unit on Health & Safety (HESA/ETUI), noted that occupational cancers are the primary cause of work-related deaths. Unions have been calling for the adoption of OELs for at least the 50 priority carcinogens responsible for more than 80 % of exposure in the workplace.

Other issues discussed at the seminar:

  • The use of biological monitoring and biological limit values to control exposure to carcinogens at work
  • How to protect firefighters from chemical risks
  • How to protect health care workers from exposure to hazardous drugs, in particular cytotoxic drugs that are used in chemotherapy. 
  • The fumigation products used to protect goods during intercontinental transport and the specific risks they pose to workers all along the supply chain

Tim Bowmer from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) reported on the implementation of the REACH and CLP – classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals and mixtures – regulations. Elke Schneider, from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), briefed the participants on the ongoing 2018-2019 European campaign to combat the risks of dangerous substances at work.