More than a million workers affected by the revision of the directive on cancers


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On 22 September 2020, the European Commission published a proposal for amending the directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work. The proposal kicks off the fourth step of the revision process started in May 2016. The opening of this fourth step will allow the European Parliament and the Council to again take the initiative on the subject.

The Commission's proposal includes the introduction of two new occupational exposure limit values (OELs), one for acrylonitrile (some 33,000 workers are estimated to be exposed to it in the European Union), the other for nickel compounds (79,000 workers exposed). The adoption of European OELs for these two carcinogens was originally announced in 1980 in Directive 80/1107.  

Moreover, the existing OEL for benzene is going to be reduced to 0.2 ppm (0.66 mg/m³). This level will apply four years after the directive enters into force. From two years up to four years after entry into force, a transitional limit value of 0.5 ppm (1.65 mg/m³) is to apply. It is reckoned that more than one million workers are exposed to benzene in the European Union.

It is expected that the new directive will be adopted in the first half of 2021. The legislative process will allow the Parliament and the Council to amend the Commission proposal. Consensus must be reached between the co-legislators.

This fourth revision is part of the overall process of revising the CMD, the original version of which dates back to 1990. The revision should have taken place in the early 2000s but was blocked by the Commission under the two Barroso presidencies (2004-2012) in response to employer pressure. Occupational cancers are the prime cause of death associated with insufficient workplace protection, accounting for some 100,000 deaths each year in the European Union.

In 2015, following a decade of legislative paralysis, the Commission announced its intention to revise the directive, with the target of introducing 50 new limit values by 2020. This commitment was given by Marianne Thyssen, at that time European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, in a letter sent to Belgian unionson 14 December 2015.

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