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Protecting Workers from Occupational Cancer

Tighter rules to better protect workers from the main cause of work-related deaths in the EU, occupational cancer, have been given final approval by the European Parliament.

The new rules add eleven carcinogens to the dangerous substances list and revise limit values for two existing ones, and aim to help save up to 100,000 lives in the next 50 years.

Major Cause of Work-Related Deaths

Cancer is the leading cause of work-related deaths in the EU. Every year, 53% of occupational deaths are attributed to cancer, compared with 28% for circulatory diseases and 6% for respiratory ones. The most common types of occupational cancer are lung cancer, mesothelioma (caused by exposure to asbestos particles) and bladder cancer.
Occupational exposure limits, i.e. the maximum quantity of harmful substances (usually expressed in milligrams per cubic metre of air) that workers can be exposed to, have been set for:
  • ten chemical agents:1,2-epoxypropane, 1,3-butadiene, 2-nitroproprane, acrylamide, bromoethylene, vinyl bromide, chromium (VI) compounds, ethylene oxide, hydrazine, and o-toluidine, plus refractory ceramic fibres, and
  • process-generated crystalline silica dust, created by mining, cutting or crushing of materials such as concrete, bricks or rocks.
The new legislation also revises exposure limits for two substances already on the list:
  • hardwood dusts (produced by cutting or pulverising wood), and
  • vinyl chloride monomer (mainly used to produce PVC)

Assessing Risks for Workers

Under the new rules, employers will have to identify and assess risks to workers who are exposed to these substances and take preventive measures. They are expected to be particularly beneficial for workers in the construction sector, chemical, automotive, woodworking and furniture industries, manufacturers of food products and textiles, the healthcare sector and hospitals.
In addition, the European Commission will have to assess the possibility of including reprotoxic substances, i.e. those having effects on sexual function and fertility, in the dangerous substances list by the first quarter of 2019.
"I am incredibly happy that the EU has finally revised the carcinogens and mutagens directive,” commented Rapporteur  Marita Ulvskog (S&D, SV). “It took over ten years of pushing to get a more ambitious agenda. Workers need to know they are protected and that companies are not competing on the basis of their health. The EU needs a stronger social agenda and this is a good start. Cancer is the biggest workplace killer and we are going to continue to fight it."

Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica

Tackling cancer caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) at work is also one of the key aims of a high profile campaign by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).
The No Time to Lose campaign aims to raise awareness and understanding of occupational cancer and to help businesses manage the risks through education and the provision of helpful resources.
IOSH highlights that silica dust is the second biggest cause of occupational cancer after asbestos. It is released when products such as bricks, tiles and concrete are worked on.
Around the world, millions of employees are exposed to silica dust. In Britain alone, around 800 people die every year from workplace exposure to RCS.

Contact Us

If you would like to find out more about claiming compensation for occupational cancer then contact our specialist personal injury lawyers today.


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