Carcinogens or mutagens at work: Council and European Parliament reach agreement

Council of the EU
  • 29/06/2017
  • 11:10
  • Press release
  • 430/17
  • Health
  • Employment
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On 28 June 2017 the Maltese presidency and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on a new directive intended to help protect workers from exposure to carcinogens or mutagens in the workplace.

By setting limits for carcinogens and mutagens this agreement helps tackling the primary cause of work-related deaths in the EU. The aim is to help save up to 100.000 lives over the next 50 years.

"With this agreement, we can better protect millions of EU workers from cancer-causing chemical substances in the work place. This is particularly important given that cancer is the first cause of work-related deaths in the EU."

Ms Helena Dalli,  Maltese Minister for European Affairs and Equality

The main elements of the provisional agreement are the following:

  • Reprotoxic substances: the Commission will have to assess the possibility of including reprotoxic substances in the scope of the directive by the first quarter of 2019 at the latest, and may present a legislative proposal on the matter
  • Chromium VI: it was preliminary agreed to have an exposure limit value of 0,010 mg/m3 for a period of 5 years after the date of transposition, which limit will subsequently be lowered to 0,005 mg/m3. A derogation was introduced for welding and plasma cutting processes or similar work processes that generate fumes, with an exposure limit value of 0.025 mg/m3 for a period of 5 years after the transposition date, and 0,005 mg/m3 thereafter.
  • Hardwood dust: The Council and the EP agreed on an exposure limit value of 3 mg/m3 for five years after the entry into force of the directive and thereafter to 2 mg/m3
  • Respiratory crystalline silica dust: the Commission committed itself to evaluate the need to modify the limit value for respirable crystalline silica dust as part of the next evaluation of the implementation of the Directive
  • Health surveillance: the doctor or authority responsible for the health surveillance of workers within member states may indicate that health surveillance must continue after the end of exposure for as long as they consider it necessary to safeguard the health of the worker concerned

The directive proposes to set exposure limits for a further 11 carcinogens in addition to those covered by the existing 2004 directive. These are: respirable crystalline silica dust, 1,2-Epoxypropane, 1,3-Butadiene, 2-Nitropropane, acrylamide, certain chromium (VI) compounds, ethylene oxide, o-toluidine, refractory ceramic fibres, Bromoethylene and Hydrazine.

The directive also revises the limits for vinyl chloride monomer and hardwood dusts in the light of more recent scientific data. 

There will be minimum requirements for eliminating and reducing all carcinogens and mutagens. Employers will also have to identify and assess risks to workers who are associated with exposure to specific carcinogens (and mutagens), and must prevent exposure where risks exist. 

Next steps

Once the deal is approved by the Council's Permanent Representatives Committee the new directive has to be formally adopted by the Council and the European Parliament.