The Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament have criticised today’s Commission proposal to add only one revised and two new carcinogenic substances to the list of binding occupational exposure limits (BOELs) and call on the Commission to improve the overall methodology to better protect workers’ health.
Agnes Jongerius, S&D spokesperson on employment, said:
“In the EU, half of the deaths caused in the workplace are attributed to cancer. Millions of workers, especially those working in the construction and chemical industries, or producing cosmetics and children’s clothing, are exposed to substances proven to cause cancer in their daily work. Thus, we warmly welcome Commissioner Schmidt’s ambition to put health and safety at the top of his in-tray.
“However, we are disappointed that only one revised and two new harmful substances were added to the list of binding occupational exposure limits in this forthcoming revision, bringing the total to only half of the 50 set as a goal for 2020. In particular we regret that, despite the European Parliament’s clear demand, hazardous drugs and reprotoxic substances were not included.
“100,000 lives were meant to be saved in the next 50 years with this measure. If we continue at the current speed and with the current measures, we won’t make it. We call on the Commission to better protect workers’ health by improving the criteria and procedures for adding new harmful substances. To guarantee high levels of protection, exposure limits should be based on the level of risk instead of a cost-benefit analysis. For transparency’s sake, it is time to shed light on the rather opaque process of how exposure limits are set. We also want to know more about how exposure is measured. Depending on the concentration of the agent very different results and consequences could arise.
“We expect the Commission to rapidly present us with their new strategy to improve the health and safety of workers, and deliver on their commitment to revise existing rules in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting the health of workers must be of the utmost importance.”
Note to the editor:
In 2015 the Commission committed to deliver on 50 binding occupational exposure limits (BOELs) by 2020. Three revisions were put forward during the last mandate. Today’s is the fourth revision, adding three new substances: acrylonitrile, nickel compounds and benzene.
Acrylonitrile can cause cancer of the brain and mammary glands, and uses include industries producing certain plastics, rubbers and chemicals.
Exposure to various nickel compounds increases the risk of lung cancer and nasal cancer. Nickel compounds are common in workplaces where mining, smelting, welding, casting and grinding occurs.
Benzene can cause cancers such as leukaemia and other blood cell cancers. Benzene is used in the rubber industry, oil refineries, chemical plants, shoe manufacturing and gasoline-related industries. Steel workers, printers, lab technicians, gas station employees and firefighters may be exposed to benzene.