Protecting people from cancer-inducing chemicals at work 

The Parliament wants to ensure people can work in safe conditions ©AP Images/European Union-EP  

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.

To further reduce the risk of workers getting cancer, MEPs voted in favour of updating EU rules on limiting harmful substances in the workplace on 27 March 2019. This adds exposure limits for five chemicals used in sectors such as nickel-cadmium battery manufacturing, zinc and copper smelting, laboratories, electronics, funerals, construction, healthcare, plastics and recycling sectors.

The amended EU directive now comprises exposure limits for 27 cancer-causing chemicals.

Read more on how the EU fights cancer

“This agreement [...] will help to improve the long-term working conditions of more than a million workers in the EU, avoiding more than 22,000 cases of occupational disease each year," said Italian EFDD member Laura Agea, the MEP in charge of steering the legislation through Parliament.


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, including exposure limit values for eight additional cancer-causing substances, whether inhaled or handled. These substances included 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.

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

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.