Better protection against diseases in the workplace

New guidelines against carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances at work adopted.

Members of the Social Affairs and Employment Committee have voted for stricter EU rules to better protect workers from exposure to carcinogens, mutagens and substances toxic to reproduction at work.

From the reports and assessments of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU OSHA), we learn that cancer is the leading cause of work-related deaths in the EU. Annually, 52% of work-related deaths are attributed to cancer, compared to 24% for circulatory diseases and 24% for other diseases and injuries.

Occupational exposure accounts for 5.3-8.4% of cancer cases and is responsible for about 120,000 diagnosed cancer cases and more than 100,000 deaths per year. The most common occupational cancers are lung cancer (between 54% and 74%), mesothelioma (caused by exposure to asbestos particles) and bladder cancer.

During the debates, MEPs learned about new scientific and technical developments. Following consultations with stakeholders, this is the fourth necessary update of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive. The three previous revisions were adopted by Parliament and Council in December 2017, January 2019 and June 2019.

List of dangerous substances extended

These rules, which add limits for two carcinogens (acrylonitrile and nickel compounds) to the list of dangerous substances and revise the limit for benzene downwards, target the main cause of work-related deaths in the EU.

Employers must identify and assess the risks to workers exposed to these substances and take preventive measures.

MEPs also call on the European Commission to improve recommendations on the recognition and compensation of asbestos-related diseases.

Furthermore, they call on the Commission to present a proposal for a framework directive so that Member States establish national asbestos removal plans that include clear and realistic timelines and interim targets, the identification and registration of asbestos, funding and support for homeowners, protective measures for workers against the risk of exposure to asbestos in accordance with Directive 2009/148/EC, and the safe disposal of asbestos to prevent it from entering recycling processes.

Directive on substances toxic to reproduction

They also voted to extend the scope of the directive to include substances toxic to reproduction. These substances have adverse effects on reproductive capacity and can lead to impaired fertility or infertility.

They call on the Commission to present an action plan by the end of 2021 to achieve limit values for a number of substances toxic to reproduction, including lead, lead compounds and mercury.

Finally, MEPs call for the inclusion of dangerous medicines. In the health sector alone, 12.7 million workers in Europe (including 7.3 million nurses) are exposed to dangerous medicines at work. Studies show that healthcare workers handling cytotoxic medicines (all medicines with anti-tumour effects) have three times the risk of developing cancer and that nurses exposed to cytotoxic medicines have twice the risk of miscarriage.

(Mon Verrydt)