End workplace cancer

Occupational cancer kills 100,000 people every year in the European Union. It is the most common work-related cause of death. 

  • Between 8 and 16% of all cancers in Europe are the result of exposure at work; 
  • Almost 1 in 5 workers in the EU are routinely exposed to carcinogens;
  • Around 50 known cancer-causing substances account for more than 80% of all workplace exposure to carcinogens.

The 2004 EU Directive on Carcinogens or mutagens at work sets binding workplace exposure limits for only 3 substances.

This Directive has been under review for the last 12 years without any change whatsoever, leaving workers in Europe without the protection they need from known causes of cancer.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is calling on the EU to stop stalling, and to take action to end workplace cancer.   

The Dutch Presidency of the EU, which runs January-June 2016, has committed in its Programme to “press for work-related cancer to be combatted by expanding workers’ protection against a wider range of carcinogens” and to this end “amending the Carcinogens Directive.”  

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is now calling on the Dutch Presidency to

  • fulfil its promise,
  • set workplace exposure limits for 50 of the common causes of occupational cancer.

To help the Dutch Presidency achieve its promise, the ETUC is

  • Publishing the list of 50 carcinogens for which it demands workplace exposure limits, 
  • Calling on the European Commission to implement these limits by the end of 2016 rather than the proposed date of 2020.

“Occupational cancer is the ignored epidemic. Workers are dying, literally in the thousands every year, and for 12 long years the EU has done nothing about it. These deaths are the result of preventable workplace exposures” said Esther Lynch, Confederal Secretary of the ETUC. “Trade unionists demand binding workplace exposure limits now for these predictable causes of cancer. The Commission needs to stop stalling, delaying until 2020 is irresponsible and unacceptable."

“The EU should aim for zero workplace cancer. Workers who have been exposed to cancer-causing substances or processes should get regular health checks during and after their employment.”

The ETUC’s list of 50 includes diesel engine exhaust, leather dust, formaldehyde, refractory ceramic fibres, respiratory crystalline silica, cadmium and cadmium compounds, benzo(a)pyrene, chromium VI compounds, ethylene oxide, trichloroethylene (TRI).

Exposure limits vary greatly from one country to another: the limit for crystalline silica is 6 times higher in some EU countries than others. Studies show EU countries have binding exposure limits for between 3 and 82 causes of cancer, and at least 17 EU countries have fewer than 50 binding exposure limits.

- Infographic "Stop cancer at work":  http://www.etui.org/Topics/Health-Safety/Occupational-cancers/Infographic-Stop-cancer-at-work

- Report on substances that should have binding occupational exposure limitshttp://www.etui.org/Publications2/Reports/Carcinogens-that-should-be-subject-to-binding-limits-on-workers-exposure