A group of EU worker organizations are calling on the European Commission to better protect workers from the risks related to exposure to reprotoxic substances - chemicals that cause adverse effects on reproduction; including sexual function, fertility and the development of offspring.

In a joint declaration issued earlier this month, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the industriAll European Trade Union, the European Chemical Employers Group (ECEG) and the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) requested that the Commission expand the scope of a Directive on carcinogens and mutagens to include reprotoxic substances.

From the declaration: “In our view, one EU directive covering carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxicants at the workplace would be a solid basis for harmonised EU wide minimum requirements.”

Different countries

The ETUC says the chemical industry has reversed its longtime opposition to the inclusion of reprotoxicants in the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, likely because manufacturers want to avoid being subject to different obligations in the various countries in which they operate. “They also consider that these changes would bring this occupational health legislation into line with all the other European legislation on chemicals (REACH, biocides, cosmetics, etc.), which applies the same rules to carcinogens (C), mutagens (M) and reprotoxicants (R) in what is commonly known as the group of CMR substances.”

The chemical industry employers and unions propose adopting Binding Occupational Exposure Limits (BOELS) for reprotoxic substances, as is the case for an ever increasing number of carcinogens and mutagens. The document suggests that the Commission make a distinction in the future between carcinogens or reprotoxicants for which it is possible to define an exposure threshold below which no adverse effect on health is expected and those for which it is impossible to set a safe level.

"Exposure minimisation"

For carcinogens or reprotoxicants without a threshold, the chemical industry employers and unions propose continuing to apply the “exposure minimisation principle.” This means that enterprises that expose their workers to carcinogenic or reprotoxic substances of this type should further reduce exposure levels below the BOELS defined in the new directive.

The main European employers’ organisation, BusinessEurope, chose not to sign the joint declaration.

In February 2017 the Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament adopted an amendment to the text of the Commission proposal revising the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive in order to include reprotoxicants within its scope.

Having extrapolated French data to European level, the trade unions believe that at least 2 million workers are exposed in the EU to reprotoxicants in their working environment.

The joint declaration (pdf - 1.05 Mb)