Updating EU rules to protect workers from harmful substances 

Press Releases 
  • Exposure limits for five additional cancer-causing substances 
  • Call for the European Commission to include hazardous drugs and cytotoxic drugs in the next proposal 
  • Incentives and digital tools to facilitate SMEs compliance with new obligations 

The Employment and Social Affairs Committee adopted on Tuesday their position to update the rules protecting workers from exposure to carcinogenic and mutagenic substances.

The third revision of the 2004 directive aims to improve working conditions and to better protect workers' health from the specific risks arising from exposure to carcinogens or mutagens.

The Employment and Social Affairs Committee agreed on the European Commission's proposal to set exposure limit values (maximum amount of substance allowed in workplace air) and/or skin notations (possibility of significantly absorbing substance through the skin) for the following five additional carcinogens:

  • Cadmium and its inorganic compounds
  • Beryllium and inorganic beryllium compounds
  • Arsenic acid and its salts, as well as inorganic arsenic compounds
  • Formaldehyde
  • 4,4'-Methylene-bis(2-chloroaniline) ("MOCA")

Biological monitoring for cadmium

Biological monitoring can contribute to protecting workers in the workplace, but only as a means of complementing the monitoring of cadmium concentration (and its inorganic compounds) in the air within a workers' breathing zone, the committee said. Moreover, it asked the Commission to draw up practical guidelines to put biological monitoring in place.

Hazardous drugs

The adopted text calls on the Commission to assess by the fourth quarter of 2019 the option of extending the scope of the directive to include a list of hazardous drugs (including cytotoxic drugs)Â that are carcinogenic or mutagenic, or to put forward other more appropriate legal instruments in order to ensure the occupational safety of workers handling those drugs.

Incentives for SMEs

Since SMEs and microenterprises, which represent a large majority of enterprises in the EU, have limited financial resources, their compliance with the new obligations should be facilitated, Employment and Social Affairs Committee MEPs say. Against this background, they suggest that incentives and digital tools could be put in place, while maintaining equal protection levels for all workers.


The rapporteur Laura Agea (EFDD, IT) said: "This third revision should improve the long-term working conditions of more than a million EU workers, preventing more than 22 000 cases of work-related ill-health. We have to ensure that workers are protected as much as possible, but for small and micro enterprises, meeting compliance rules can be a challenge. That is why their compliance should be facilitated through incentives and digital tools. I'm glad that the European Commission will now have to assess the problem of workers exposed to carcinogens and mutagens derived from hazardous drugs, including cytotoxic drugs, and come out with a proposal".

Next steps

The text was adopted by 43 votes with 2 abstentions. The Committee is now ready to enter into negotiations with the European Commission and the Council.