Although the use of asbestos has been banned in European Union (EU) nations since 2005, the substance remains a health risk in Europe due to its ubiquitous presence in many private and public buildings.

Asbestos was one of the major agenda items at last month’s seminar on chemicals and worker protection held in Lisbon. Hosted by the European Trade Union Institute in Lisbon in collaboration with the General Confederation of the Portuguese Workers (CGTP), the gathering brought together more than 40 union representatives from 21 European countries. Its aim was to coordinate union action on chemical risks.

Along with asbestos, recent revisions of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD) were discussed, as well as of the actions needed for the ambitious national-level transposition of the new occupational exposure limits (OELs) for the carcinogens. The topic of the plastic-induced health crisis was also addressed, as was the use of bio-monitoring for protecting workers.

An expert from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) provided participants with information on the implementation of the REACH and CLP regulations, as well as on the new tasks assigned to the ECHA regarding the preparation of future OELs for workers. Following the disbandment of the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL), the Helsinki-based ECHA has now been mandated by the European Commission to draw up recommendations for OELs.

An expert from the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAUA) explained the REACH-related legislative initiative on restricting the use of diisocyanates to workers who have received specific training on how to use them safely. Widely used in many different industrial sectors, these allergy-inducing substances are the cause of numerous cases of occupational diseases each year. On the table of European legislators for several months now, the proposal has provoked controversial discussions due to potential duplications of existing provisions in OSH legislation.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) gave an overview of what the agency was currently working on with regard to chemical risks and on recent initiatives: the launch of a research project to gather data on the exposure of European workers to carcinogens and a first stock-taking of the now-ending European campaign on the safe use of hazardous substances.

A selection of the presentations: