EU clamps down on cancer-causing substances in the workplace | News | DW | 25.10.2017
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Workplace safety

EU clamps down on cancer-causing substances in the workplace

Stricter rules on carcinogenic substances at workplaces have been adopted by the European Parliament. It's added 11 carcinogens to a 2004 directive in a bid to save 100,000 lives across the EU within five decades.

Sägen von Stein mit Wasser gegen Staubentwicklung (picture-alliance/blickwinkel/G. Czepluch)

EU: Silica dust from cutting concrete, bricks and rocks can also cause cancer in the long term

Parliament's rapporteur Marita Ulvskog said Wednesday's passage of the EU's reformed Carcinogen and Mutagen Directive was the culmination of 10 years of legislative effort to tackle cancer as the "biggest workplace killer."

In Strasbourg, 540 parliamentarians voted to tighten the workplace protection directive (2004/37/EC), with 6 against, alongside 119 abstentions.

The new rules should benefit workers in the construction sector, the chemical, automotive, woodworking and furniture industries, food product and textile manufacturing workers as well as those in the healthcare and hospital sector.

To come into effect, the bill still has to be published. Parliament and the 28 EU nations had agreed last June to proceed with the reform, which the Commission said would define a "level playing field" across the EU's single market.

Marianne Thyssen (Picture-Alliance/dpa/O. Hoslet)

Workplace carcinogens are the No. 1 work-related killer, says Thyssen

Employers responsible

In the future, employers will be required to assess and ensure for their workers lower levels of 13 substances in workplace air, including hydrazine, vinyl bromide and crystalline silica dust created, for example, during mining and concrete crushing.

Included among the 13 substances are tighter limits on hardwood dusts, resulting from cutting or pulverizing wood, and vinyl chloride monomer in plastics.

Parliament also urged the European Commission to draft further controls by 2019 on workplace substances that harm human fertility.

Workplace carcinogens top killer

Carcinogens at workplaces account for 53 percent of all work-related deaths in the EU, which appear as lung cancer, asbestos-caused mesothelioma and bladder cancer, according to the commission.

German Social Democratic (SPD) EU parliamentarian and trade unionist Jutta Steinruck welcomed the reformed directive's inclusion of medical checks of workers far beyond their actual exposure to carcinogens to identify delayed long-term effects.

EU Europaparlament Jutta Steinruck MdEP (Jutta Steinruck)

Workers need long-term medical checks, says Steinruck

Briefing parliament last year, European employment and social affairs commissioner Marianne Thyssen of Belgium said workplace cancer had an "enormous impact on workers, their families, industry and society."

"With this proposal we will save 100,000 lives in the next 50 years, she said.

Stronger 'social agenda' promised

Ulvskog of Sweden said the reform's adoption was part of a "stronger" EU social agenda.

Last week, 40 international scientists in a wider study on worldwide pollution included an estimate that workplace pollution alone - from exposure to toxins and carcinogens - resulted in 800,000 deaths globally.

Deaths attributed to occupational cancer within the EU amount to around 102,000 per year, according to the European Commission.

ipj/ng (AFP, Reuters)

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