Protecting workers: deal on stricter limits on carcinogens  

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  • Lower exposure limits for harmful substances
  • New substances could be included in the future

New EU rules for protecting workers from carcinogens and mutagens at work were informally agreed with the Council on June 28 and have been approved on Tuesday by the Coreper.

The provisional agreement between Council and Parliament negotiators, led by Employment Committee Vice-Chair Marita Ulvskog (S&D, SE), includes lower “occupational exposure limit (OEL)”, i.e. maximum quantity of the element workers can be exposed to, for harmful substances:


  • chromium VI, used in textile dyes, paints and leather tanning materials and generated during the casting, welding or cutting of stainless steel


  • hard wood dust and vinyl chloride monomer


In addition, the Commission will, upon Parliament’s insistence, have to assess the possibility of including reprotoxic substances in EU protection rules by the first quarter of 2019 at the latest. Reprotoxins pose a risk to workers of both sexes and to the children of women exposed to them during pregnancy.




MEP Marita Ulvskog (S&D, SE) has been the rapporteur and, as such, the lead negotiator for the European Parliament for the first legislative proposal on the Carcinogens and Mutagens directive on which a tentative agreement has now been reached.


“It is incredibly important that we have an agreement and move forward on this file which is the first of several on the same topic. Workers have waited ten years for the EU to improve their protection from these incredibly dangerous substances. We are happy to have taken a further step towards improving health surveillance and the limit values for Chromium VI and hardwood dust. Cooperation across political groups was key in achieving this," says Marita Ulvskog.


She continues; “On the issues where there were agreements for further evaluation, the Parliament will follow closely, especially on the issues of the inclusion of reprotoxic substances and the possibility of an even stricter value for crystalline silica. These are long term priorities for the European Parliament.”


Claude Rolin (EPP, BE), rapporteur for the second batch of substances, added:


 "Expected for more than ten years, on the ground, this agreement is a first step towards better protection of the health of millions of workers. The common and ambitious position of the negotiators of the Employment Committee led to more stringent occupational exposure limits for some substances and a medical follow-up of workers throughout life. It is now up to the Commission to make a proposal including reprotoxic substances, as we defended it forcefully during the discussions.”

Agreed thresholds


For chromium VI, a limit value of 0,010 mg/m3 will be in place for the first 5 years after the date on which it is applicable in national law, subsequently lowered to 0,005 mg/m3 afterwards. A derogation for welding, plasma cutting or similar processes puts a limit of 0.025 mg/m3 for the first 5 years and 0,005 mg/m3 thereafter.


For hard wood dust, a limit is set at 3 mg/m3 for five years after the entry into force of the directive and is thereafter lowered to 2 mg/m3.


Health surveillance


New rules also include a provision that a doctor or authority responsible for the health surveillance of workers within member states may indicate that health surveillance of the worker must continue after the end of exposure for as long as they consider it necessary to safeguard the health of the worker concerned..


Next steps


The Parliament and the Council will each vote on the draft directive after the summer break.

Quick facts  
  • Updated draft rules to better protect workers from exposure to harmful substances in the workplace seeks to set EU-wide limit values for 13 priority carcinogens and mutagens. It also adds to the list substances the crystalline silica dust.  
  • Annually, 53 % of occupational deaths in the EU are attributed to cancer (28% circulatory diseases, 6% respiratory). The most common types are lung cancer, mesothelioma (exposure to asbestos particles) and bladder cancer. 
  • Study shows that more than 1% of the workers are exposed to reprotoxic substances, so 2-3 million could be affected in the EU. Legislation on pregnant workers does not impose preventative measures before worker informs employer of her pregnancy.