European workers can now access detailed information about the chemicals they use in the workplace through an online database put in place by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) and the Spanish Trade Union Institute ISTAS.
The RISCTOX chemicals database contains data cards on 100,000-odd chemicals, many of which can cause cancer, allergies, disrupt the hormonal system or put the reproductive system at risk.
Each card specifies the chemicals classification and labelling under the regulations, its main work uses (solvent, cleaner, paint stripper, etc.), how it affects health, and the occupational diseases it causes.
The information can be called up simply by entering either the chemical’s name or its identification number in the main international chemical inventories into a search box.
A search for the solvent styrene produces the information that it's a carcinogen, endocrine disrupter and neurotoxin that can affect the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and endocrine system and can cause kidney damage and skin problems.
Of the 100,000 or so chemicals listed, the trade unions have identified nearly 570 as substances of very high concern (SVHC) for putting on their list of priority substances. These are chemicals commonly used in many workplaces that need priority treatment under REACH, the regulation governing the marketing and use of chemicals in the European Union.
According to ETUI, a third of occupational disease claims recognized in Europe each year are due to exposure to hazardous substances.