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Protecting Workers Against Carcinogen Exposure

The European Commission has announced new measures to protect workers in the European Union from workplace-related cancer as well as other health problems. 

It is proposing to limit workers' exposure to five cancer-causing chemicals, in addition to the 21 substances that have already been limited or proposed to be limited. It estimates that this will improve working conditions for over 1,000,000 EU workers and prevent over 22,000 cases of work-related illness.

Data from the Commission shows that cancer is the main cause of work-related deaths. Around 52% of annual work-related deaths are due to cancer, compared to 24% due to circulatory illnesses and 2% due to injuries. The Commission highlights that exposure to certain chemical agents at work can cause cancer. While cancer is a complex disease and certain causal factors are difficult to identify, it is clear that cancers caused by exposure to chemical substances in the workplace can be prevented by reducing or eliminating these exposures.

The Commission proposes to include new exposure limit values for five chemicals in the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive. These limit values set a maximum concentration for the presence of a cancer-causing chemical in the workplace air. The following five carcinogens of high relevance for the protection of workers have been selected:

  • Cadmium and its inorganic compounds;
  • Beryllium and inorganic beryllium compounds;
  • Arsenic acid and its salts, as well as inorganic arsenic compounds;
  • Formaldehyde;
  • 4,4'-Methylene-bis(2-chloroaniline) (MOCA).

"Today, the Commission has taken another important step towards fighting work-related cancer and other relevant health problems on the work floor,” commented Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen. “We propose to limit workers' exposure to five additional cancer-causing chemicals. This will improve protection for over 1 million workers in Europe and help create a healthier and safer workplace, which is a core principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights."

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