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14 July 2016

Workers and chemicals: 12th ETUI seminar

The 12th edition of the ETUI’s annual seminar on chemicals and worker protection took place from 30 June to 1 July 2016. It brought together some 40 trade union members from across Europe with a view to coordinating trade union action on the current revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive.

In her opening speech, Esther Lynch, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), emphasised the importance of this issue for workers. Occupational cancers were the primary cause of work-related deaths, accounting for more than 100 000 deaths every year in the European Union. In order to prevent the spread of these cancers, European trade unions were calling for the adoption of binding occupational exposure limit values (OELs) for at least the 50 carcinogens responsible for more than 80 % of exposure in the workplace.

Laurent Vogel, an ETUI researcher, then set out the trade union position on the proposed amendment of the Directive adopted by the European Commission in May 2016, which had been discussed by one of its representatives at the seminar. Brussels was proposing introducing binding OELs for 11 new carcinogens and reducing the current OELs for two others. A step in the right direction but one that did not go far enough for the trade unions. The ETUC was calling on the European Parliament and the Council to extend the scope of the Directive to include substances that were toxic to reproduction and introduce stricter limit values than those proposed by the Commission for four of the 13 carcinogens (crystalline silica, chromium VI, hardwood dust and refractory ceramic fibres).

Also at the meeting a representative of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) presented the campaign on dangerous substances, which would run from 2018 to 2019.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) was also represented and discussed the contribution of the REACH and CLP Regulations to our knowledge of the chemicals sold in Europe and risk management for workers exposed to chemicals in the various industrial sectors.

Some of the other points that resulted in lively debates included the complex and multifaceted problem of worker exposure to fumigation products used to protect goods during intercontinental transport, the role of the trade unions in drawing up standard ISO 45001 on occupational health and safety management systems, and the identification criteria for endocrine disruptors recently proposed by the Commission.

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