EU Commission follows up on workers' protection from cancer-causing chemicals



The EU principles of worker protection from carcinogens are laid out in the over-arching Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Framework Directive 89/391/EEC and those Directives specifically dealing with chemical risks – notably the Chemical Agents Directive (CAD) and the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD).

Under the OSH framework, risks to the safety and health of workers must be eliminated, or, if total elimination is not possible, reduced to a minimum. Employers must identify and assess risks to workers associated with exposure to specific carcinogens and mutagens at the workplace, and must prevent exposure where risks occur. Where this is technically possible, substitution with a non- or less-hazardous process or chemical agent is required. In cases where such substitution is not possible, chemical carcinogens must, as far as it is technically possible, be manufactured and used in a closed system to prevent workers' exposure. Where this is not possible either, worker exposure must be reduced to as low a level as is technically possible.

The Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD) sets a number of general provisions to prevent or reduce exposure for all carcinogens and mutagens falling under its scope. In addition to these general minimum requirements, the CMD indicates occupational exposure limit values (OELs) for all those carcinogens or mutagens for which this is possible, as an essential means to protect workers.

Reducing exposure to carcinogens and mutagens at the workplace by setting EU-wide OELs effectively contributes to the prevention of cancer cases, as well as other significant non-cancer health problems caused by these substances. Consequently it improves the quality of life and well-being of workers and their close ones, prolong working lives, contribute to better productivity and competitiveness of the EU, and improve the level playing field for businesses within the EU.

Scientific knowledge about carcinogenic chemicals is constantly evolving and technological progress enables improvements in protection of workers. To ensure that the mechanisms for protecting workers established in the CMD are as effective as possible and that up-to-date preventative measures are in place in all Member States, the Directive needs to be regularly revised. For this reason, the Commission has supported a continuous process of updating the CMD to keep abreast with the new scientific and technical developments, taking account of Social Partner's and Member State's views.

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