European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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28 October 2016

An event bringing together researchers and workers provides fresh insights into the prevention of occupational cancer

At an information day on occupational cancer held on 25 October 2016, Laurent Vogel and Tony Musu, occupational health researchers at the ETUI and experts in their field, provided an overview of current European legislation aimed at protecting workers against carcinogens in the workplace and an update on the proposed amendments to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive.

Laurent Vogel underlined the fact that around 100 000 people die every year in Europe as a result of occupational cancers. This means that workplace exposure to carcinogens is far and away the leading occupational cause of death, with manual labourers at most risk.

The researcher also highlighted the limitations of policies aimed at lowering the cancer risk, which he believes do not take adequate account of ‘actual exposure conditions’. Many prevention measures are devised in laboratories, for example, and do not reflect real-life patterns of worker exposure in industrial settings. Vogel cited several initiatives which had been launched in France (Giscop), Italy (OCCAM) and the Nordic countries (NOCCA) with a view to pinpointing with much greater granularity the sectors, professions and even businesses with the highest cancer risk. He also underscored the potential of the relatively young discipline of ‘ergotoxicology’ in terms of preventing occupational cancer. Since the underlying purpose of ergotoxicological investigations is to describe and explain different contamination scenarios on the basis of real-life situations in which workers are exposed to chemicals, they frequently reveal the shortcomings of personal protective equipment.

Tony Musu, an expert on chemical risks, talked about the challenges associated with the ongoing revision of the EU Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work. He made reference to the fact that European trade unions were calling for the scope of the Directive to be expanded to include reproductive toxicants, and for the number of binding occupational exposure limit values to be more than the 13 currently proposed by the Commission. According to Musu, these debates at EU level are accompanied by ‘fierce lobbying from all the major chemical multinationals and other employers seeking to limit the scope of the reforms’.

The information day, organised in Liège by the André Renard Foundation (an organisation with close links to the trade union confederation FGTB) and attended by around 80 trade union representatives from the private and public sectors, also featured two presentations on campaigns launched by occupational cancer victims seeking acknowledgment and redress for harm caused by a failure to take preventive measures.

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