Protecting people from cancer-inducing chemicals at work 


Cancer is linked to more than half of work-related deaths in the EU. Learn about the EU rules to protect people from carcinogens in the workplace.

In 2017, MEPs set exposure limits on 11 additional carcinogens during the first revision of the 2004 directive to limit harmful substances in the workplace.

On 11 December 2018, MEPs adopted even stricter rules to further eliminate and reduce carcinogens and mutagens in the workplace.

Carcinogens and mutagens  
  • Chemical agents that may cause cancer or genetic mutations  

The new legislation includes exposure limit values for eight additional cancer-causing substances, whether inhaled or handled. These substances include diesel fumes and used engine oil. It will also include skin notations for these substances, which are used to warn against the potential health effects associated with skin penetration.

Belgian EPP member Claude Rolin, the MEP responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament, said: "The most important thing for me is that there is an ongoing re-evaluation of risks, because we cannot put a price on the health of our workers.”

MEPs are already working on a third revision to further improve working conditions and better protect workers’ health by setting exposure limits on another five carcinogens.

Cancer in the workplace


Cancer is the number one cause of work-related deaths in the EU. Every year 53% can be linked to cancer, 28% to circulatory diseases and 6% to respiratory diseases. The most common types of work-related cancers are lung cancer, mesothelioma (caused by exposure to asbestos particles) and bladder cancer. According to the World Health Organization, one in ten lung cancer deaths is closely related to workplace risks.


Sectors that are especially affected are the construction sector, chemicals manufacturers, automotive and furniture industries, food producers, textiles manufacturers, the wood working industry and the healthcare sector.