a proposal to amend the Directive 2004/37/EC on Carcinogens
and Mutagens, the European Commission wants to further reduce the exposure of
workers to carcinogenic chemicals at work.
New maximum allowable concentrations are introduced for
acrylonitrite and nickel compounds, and the existing limit for benzene is reduced.
The respective national limits for the substances mentioned vary considerably.
For example, the national limit for acrylonitrile, which ranges from 0.5 mg/m³
to 7 mg/m³ in the Member States, is 14 times lower in some EU countries than in
others. Seven EU countries do not yet have exposure limits for this.
While acrylonitrite is mainly used by large
companies, the relevant industries using nickel compounds and benzene primarily comprise small and medium-sized companies. With regard to necessary
investments, specific transition periods have been provided for the respective
substances to avoid hardship cases.
According to the EU Commission, more than
one million workers in the EU are currently exposed to these carcinogenic
substances. Without further action, exposure to these substances would result
in about 2000 cases of cancer and other occupational diseases within the next
As a result of exposure to carcinogens at
work, there would be about 120,000 cases of occupational cancer each year in
the EU, resulting in about 80,000 deaths per year. According to statistics by
the European Agency for Occupational Safety and Health, 52% of annual
work-related deaths in the EU are attributable to cancer.
The proposal is intended to be a first
action under the new European plan for combating cancer. The Commission
envisages that the fight against occupational cancer will be an integral part
of the plan.
The maximum allowable concentrations laid
down in the Directive on Carcinogens and Mutagens are intended to help protect
workers from exposure to carcinogenic chemicals in the workplace and to work
towards an equivalent minimum level of occupational safety and health in the
EU. Existing limits will be adapted if this appears necessary on the basis of
new scientific findings. Therefore, the Directive should be continuously
updated, most recently in June 2019.
The European Trade Union Confederation
(ETUC) had criticised the fact that maximum allowable concentrations were not
included or revised any longer. No measures had been taken to limit exposure to
other carcinogenic substances. Furthermore, some of the existing exposure
limits, for example for asbestos, do not provide sufficient protection and
would need to be updated. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO),
some 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos at work (see report 4/2020).
The European Parliament and the Council
must now discuss the draft amendment. The European Commission has launched an
eight-week public consultation on the proposed change. Participation in the
consultation is possible until 20th November 2020.