The EU Commission puts forward its third amended Directive and calls for public feedback.

SW – 04/2018

On 5 April, the EU Commission released a further amendment to Directive 2004/37/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to carcinogens or mutagens at work, and proposed exposure limits for the following five additional substances: 


  • Cadmium and its inorganic compounds; 
  • Beryllium and inorganic beryllium compounds; 
  • Arsenic acid and its salts, as well as inorganic arsenic; 
  • Formaldehyde; 
  • 4,4'-Methylene-bis(2-chloroaniline) (‘MOCA’). 


The first three substances are used in cadmium production and refining; the production of nickel-cadmium batteries; mechanical plating; zinc and copper smelting; in foundries; glassmaking; laboratories; in the electronics, chemical, construction and health sectors; in plastic manufacturing; and recycling processes. 

The objectives of the Commission’s proposal are: 


  • reduce occupational exposure to carcinogens and mutagens in the European Union; 
  • increase the effectiveness of the EU framework through a revision based on scientific expertise; 
  • improve equal protection of workers in the EU from carcinogens, while at the same time providing more clarity and a level playing field for economic operators. 

How should the benefits of the proposal be assessed?

Limit values set the maximum airborne concentration for a carcinogenic agent in the workplace. By introducing these limits, the Commission hopes not only to reduce the number of work-related cancers, but also to stem other serious health problems caused by carcinogens and mutagens. 


In total, the Commission estimates that the proposal will improve the working conditions for over one million workers and prevent more than 22,000 work-related illnesses. 52% of work-related deaths are because of cancer, making it the leading cause of work-related deaths. The proposed amendment will improve the quality of life of workers and their families, and reduce the direct and indirect costs related to worker illness. 


The Commission also sees benefits for employers and social insurance providers. For example, employers would benefit from fewer absences and productivity losses. Reducing the cost of treatment and reducing expenditure on sickness benefits and compensation for occupational diseases will also have a positive impact on social security systems. 


A study conducted on behalf of the Commission showed the actual benefits which various stakeholders could expect the introduction of an occupational exposure limit 


  • for formaldehyde: would result in 1 to 5 billion euro for workers and 181 million euro for administrations and 
  • for beryllium: would result in 15 million euro for businesses. 

Public consultation

In conjunction with the publication of the proposal, the Commission has also launched a public consultation. Interested parties are being given the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed amendment and the impact assessment. Feedback is open until 4 June 2018. 


Directive 2004/37/EC on carcinogens and mutagens contains occupational exposure limits to carcinogenic and mutagenic agents, as well as general provisions for preventing or reducing exposure to carcinogenic and mutagenic agents. 


In order to deal with advances in technology and research on carcinogenic or mutagenic chemicals and to better protect workers, the Directive will be continuously updated, involving both the social partners and the Member States. The preparatory work for setting the limit values took into account the comments of the tripartite Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work (ACSH). As part of this committee, workers’ and employers’ organisations as well as the Member States submitted their opinions on the limits proposed under the initiative. 

The Commission had previously proposed two amendments to the Directive in May 2016 and January 2017, containing limits for a total of 21 carcinogens. The Council and the EU Parliament agreed on the first amendment in July last year. The proposal was formally adopted at the end of 2017 in the form of Directive (EU) 2017/2398. The second amendment is currently being discussed by the European Parliament and the Council. 


More information can be read here