Trialogue on new exposure limit values can start

SW/UV – 06/2023

At the meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) on 12 June, the Ministers of Labour and Social Affairs adopted their common position. The Council broadly agrees with the European Commission's proposal for improved protection from exposure to lead and diisocyanates through the introduction of stricter exposure limit for lead and first-time exposure limit for diisocyanates.

In order to ensure compliance with the revised biological exposure limit for lead, the Council provides for a transitional phase here until the end of 2028. This is to give Member States sufficient time to implement risk management measures and adapt production processes.

Special care in certain groups of cases

The Council's position also includes special provisions for workers who already have high lead concentrations in the blood due to previous exposure. Special provisions shall also apply to women of childbearing age, but these must not give rise to discrimination in the workplace. In this context, a medical examination is envisaged for women of childbearing age whose lead level in the blood reaches a certain value or is above the reference value of the general population not occupationally exposed to lead.

The Council has also included the development of guidelines for health monitoring in its general orientation. The guidelines shall include, inter alia, recommendations on the implementation of the provision for lead content in the blood and shall be aimed at the implementation of the rules applicable to lead content in the blood.

Better occupational health and safety needed

"We need to ensure that people working to implement the green transition are protected from potential health risks," says Paulina Brandberg, Swedish Minister for Equality and Employment and current chairperson of EPSCO. Against the background of the Green Deal and the expected building renovation wave, it seems particularly important to better protect workers from exposure to lead and diisocyanates. This is because lead is still found frequently enough as white lead in old paint, in connection with stone in hinges or metal clamps, on roofs as a roof termination or edging of roof openings.

Diisocyanates are used, among other things, in the production of paints, adhesives, building foam, insulation material or coatings.

Avoid damage to health

Lead can lead above all to damage to blood formation, blood vessels, the gastrointestinal system, kidneys, nerves and the brain. In addition, lead is reprotoxic, affecting sexual function, fertility and foetal development in pregnant women. Diisocyanates - a nitrogen, carbon and oxygen group - may be the cause of lung and respiratory diseases such as asthma. Consequently, there are enough reasons for decisive action and effective occupational health and safety.

Trialogue can start

The European Commission published its amendment proposal in February 2023 to revise the limit values for lead and its inorganic substances and to introduce limit values for diisocyanates for the first time. The proposal aims to amend the Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work and the on the Directive on protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work.

The general approach gives Spain, which takes over the Council Presidency on 1 July, a mandate to start trialogue negotiations with the European Parliament. In its feedback, the German Social Insurance (DSV) welcomed the initiative, but pointed out that despite new limit values, technical and organisational protective measures remain important.