European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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6 July 2018

ETUI seminar on carcinogens at work and chemical risks

The 14th edition of the ETUI’s annual seminar on workers’ protection and chemicals took place in Brussels on 21 and 22 June 2018. It brought together some 40 trade union members from across Europe with a view to coordinating trade union action on the fight against occupational cancers.

In her opening speech, Marian Schaapman, Head of the European Trade Union Institute’s Unit on Health & Safety (HESA/ETUI), emphasised the importance of this issue for workers. Occupational cancers are the primary cause of work-related deaths, accounting for more than 100 000 deaths every year in the European Union. To prevent the spread of these avoidable cancers, unions have been calling for the adoption of binding occupational exposure limit values (OELs) for at least the 50 priority carcinogens responsible for more than 80 % of exposure in the workplace.

Two ETUI researchers, Laurent Vogel and Tony Musu, reported on the ongoing revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD). After a first wave of 13 carcinogens for which new or updated binding OELs have been adopted in 2017, a second wave of 5 carcinogens* proposed by the Commission is currently under discussion. A binding OEL for Diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEE) might also be included in the CMD depending on the outcome of the trialogue discussion to be held under the Austrian Presidency between the European Parliament, the Council and the EU Commission. European trade unions are very supportive of the European Parliament’s amendment since over 3.6 million workers are exposed to DEEE within the EU-28. According to the Commission’s impact assessment, the lack of legislation prohibiting exposure to diesel engine exhausts at work will result in 230 000 deaths in the EU between 2010 and 2069.

Alick Morris from the European Commission reported on the use of biological monitoring and biological limit values to control exposure to carcinogens at work.  Benefits and drawbacks of these tools were heavily debated by participants.

Some of the other points that resulted in lively debates included the complex and multifaceted problems of protecting firefighters from chemical risks and health care workers from exposure to hazardous drugs, in particular cytotoxic drugs that are used in chemotherapy.  The fumigation products used to protect goods during intercontinental transport and the specific risks they pose to workers all along the supply chain were also discussed.

Tim Bowmer from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) reported on the implementation of the REACH and CLP – classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals and mixtures – regulations. Elke Schneider, from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), briefed the participants on the ongoing 2018-2019 European campaign to combat the risks of dangerous substances at work.

* Trichloroethylene , Ethylene dichloride, 4,4'-Methylenedianiline, Epichlorohydrine, Ethylene dibromide

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