Figure 5-7: Examples of frequently contaminated surfaces in a hospital toilet (EC)

The 19th ETUI annual seminar on workers’ protection and chemicals was held in Brussels on 27-28 June 2023. It brought together some thirty trade unionists from 15 European countries to coordinate trade union action on the prevention of chemical risks at work.

The participants discussed the state of play on the revisions of the Asbestos at Work Directive, the Carcinogens, Mutagens and Reprotoxic substances Directive and the Chemical Agents Directive. The principal objectives of these legislative updates are the introduction of revised or new occupational exposure limit (OEL) values for asbestos, lead and its derivatives and di-isocyanates respectively. 

During the debates, the union experts were informed of the political agreement reached the same day between the European co-legislators for a new limit value for asbestos set at 2,000 fibres per m³ – 50 times less than the current limit value and 5 times less than the European Commission's initial proposal.

The other main topics of the two-day debate was the exposure of workers to endocrine disruptors with the inclusion of this new hazard class of dangerous substances in the Belgian legislation on workers' protection, and a critical analysis of the 2022 fatal accident at Melamin Kočevje plant in Slovenia which killed seven workers and injured 32 others.

Participants also discussed the process of OEL setting for carcinogens in the EU legislation and how trade unions can contribute to this complex procedure.

Finally, a representative of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) gave an update on the study conducted by the Bilbao agency in six European countries on workers’ exposure to carcinogens, and the European Commission's coordinator of the ‘EU Guidance for the safe management of Hazardous Medicinal Products’ detailed the content of this tool aimed at preventing occupational cancers and reproductive disorders in the healthcare sector.