18 May 2016

The single biggest health risk to workers in the EU is cancer, the first cause of work-related deaths in the Member States, accounting for 53% of the total.

In this context, the European Commission has proposed improvements to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (2004/37/EC) in order to limit exposure to 13 cancer-causing chemicals at the workplace.

Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, said: "Cancer has an enormous impact on workers, their families, industry and society. With this proposal we will save 100,000 lives in the next 50 years. Protection of workers is at the core of the Commission's commitment to a strong social Europe."

The intention is to include new or amended limit values for certain chemicals in the directive, setting a maximum concentration for the presence of a chemical carcinogen in the air of workplaces.

Some of these 13 carcinogens, such as "respirable crystalline silica" (RCS), chromium (VI) compounds, hardwood dust or hydrazine, affect very high numbers of workers.

For others, there are indications that use patterns may be lower, but those chemicals are considered a priority as the ratio between the number of exposed workers and cancer cases is high.

Research is continuing on seven other priority substances and they will probably be introduced into the Directive at a later date.

A list of the 13 chemicals, together with the industrial sectors concerned and the number of exposed workers, can be found here.