New limits for lead and diisocyanates should make workplaces safer

UM – 04/2023

On 26 April, the European Commission (EC) concluded its exploratory process for better protection of workers from chemical agents. The opinion focused on the lowering of the current limits for lead and inorganic lead compounds as well as the first-time introduction of limits for diisocyanates, a nitrogen, carbon and oxygen group, which are mainly found in sealants, construction foams or paints. 

Limits alone are not enough

German Social Insurance European Representation (DSV) shares the EC's concern to continuously and consistently improve the safety and protection of people at their workplaces. It does so by proposing an amendment to the Directives 98/24/EC and 2004/37/EC with regard to limits for lead and its inorganic compounds and for diisocyanates. As right as the step is in principle, the change or introduction of limits alone is not enough. The DSV points this out in its feedback.

Lead – residual uncertainties remain

In doing so, it follows the EC's proposal to significantly lower the limits for lead concentrations in the air of the working environment and in the blood of workers. An even lower limit is proposed for women of childbearing age. Medical monitoring of workers should also be initiated earlier, i.e. when lower thresholds are reached. Nevertheless, caution is advised. Significantly lowered limits do not necessarily ensure that health hazards can be completely ruled out.

Diisocyanates – methodical problems with measurement

The first-time introduction of limits for diisocyanates is generally viewed positively by the DSV. The EC proposes common occupational exposure limits for all diisocyanates and only wants to differentiate between a shift value, measured in eight hours, and a short-term value. That falls short. Following this approach, essential information regarding the toxicity of certain diisocyanate groups would be lost. In addition, there are methodological problems with the measurement. And here too: Residual uncertainties remain as to the adverse health effects below the proposed limits. This is especially true for sensitised employees.

Measurement method: Further developments necessary

Therefore, effective occupational safety and appropriate preventive measures remain important in day-to-day operations – and this applies to lead as well as to diisocyanates. The transitional period proposed by the EC for the implementation of the new provisions should also be used to make the measuring equipment and procedures more accurate so that the new limits can also be checked and complied with.