Improvements to EU worker safety against cancer-causing chemicals

Improvements to EU worker safety against cancer-causing chemicals
iStock-Milos Dimic

The European Commission has proposed to improve workers safety by limiting their exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

Around 120,000 work-related cancer cases and 80,000 cancer-related deaths occur each year as a direct result of exposure to carcinogenic chemicals at work in the European Union. The European Commission has now made a fourth revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive which sets new or revised limit values for three important substances: acrylonitrile, nickel compounds, and benzene. The improved safety measures are set to benefit an estimated 1.1 million workers in a wide range of sectors.

The new measures are the first initiative of the Commission’s commitment to fight cancer under Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, said: “A workplace should be a safe place and yet cancer is the cause of half of the deaths linked to work. Today’s update to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive is one of the first steps in our ambitious plan to beat cancer. It shows that we are determined to act and will not compromise on workers’ health. In the backdrop of the major health crisis due to COVID-19, we will redouble our efforts to ensure that workers in Europe are protected. We will look into concrete ways on how to achieve this via the future occupational safety and health strategic framework.”

Improving safety in the EU

The Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive is regularly updated in line with new scientific evidence and technical data, and three previous updates have addressed workers’ exposure to 26 chemicals.

This most recent proposal adds new or revised occupational exposure limits for the following substances:

  • Acrylonitrile (new limit)
  • Nickel compounds (new limit)
  • Benzene (limit revised downwards)

The proposal will also benefit companies by reducing costs caused by work-related ill health and cancer, such as absences and insurance payments.

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Reducing the suffering caused by cancer is a priority for us, and to do so, prevention is key. Today we are taking an important step to protect our workers from the exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace and start our work under our upcoming Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. With the Plan, we will aim to tackle the main risk factors of cancer for everyone, but also to guide patients at every step of their journey and contribute to improving the life of those affected by this disease.”

The Commission’s proposal will now be negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council.

Subscribe to our newsletter


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here