New protections from cancer for 1 million workers

The European Council and European Parliament have concluded a provisional deal on an update to the carcinogens and mutagens directive which would provide new protections for workers from the following substances:

•            Acrylonitrile: new exposure limit - 33 000 exposed workers in the EU

•            Nickel compounds: new exposure limit - 79 000 exposed workers in the EU

•            Benzene: existing exposure limit revised downwards - 1 million workers exposed in the EU

Other improvements include:

  • Inclusion of substances toxic to reproduction in the scope of the directive. The total number of substances with a binding exposure limit under the directive is now 39 substances (25 + 2 new carcinogens + 12 new reprotoxic substances)
  • Specific training for workers handling hazardous medical drugs is added in the legal text as well as the commitment to adopt EU guidelines by end of 2022
  • Obligations are put on the European Commission and the tripartite Advisory Committee on Safety & Health (ACSH) to work further on the issue of risk-based methodology for exposure limits
  • Action-plan to set OELs for 25 extra carcinogens by end of 2022

Commenting on the deal, ETUC Deputy General Secretary Claes-Mikael Ståhl said:

“At a time when 100,000 people still lose their lives every year in Europe from work-related cancer and many more suffer fertility problems as a result of exposure to carcinogenic or reprotoxic substances, this is an important victory for the safety of working people.

“I look forward to the next round of revisions to the Directive. With Workers still facing exposure to 25 other high-risk cancer-causing substances for which there are no EU exposure limits, further revisions are urgent. The agreement on an action plan on exposure limits for all 25 by the end of next year is crucial to efforts to eliminate workplace cancer.

“No one should be placed at risk of cancer when they go to work and the ETUC will keep working to ensure working people have all the protections they need.”


ETUC press release on Commission proposal:

ETUC press release on Parliament amendments to the proposal: