European Commission Proposes Increased Protection from Workplace Exposure to Carcinogens

The European Commission (EC) has proposed a fourth revised version of its Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive. The release of this most recent proposal is part of the EC's ongoing commitment to combatting cancer. In this blog post, we discuss the Directive and look at the problem of workplace carcinogen exposure.

The Problem

Carcinogens, simply put, are substances that possess the ability to trigger carcinogenesis, or the development of cancer. In turn, the extent to which cancer development may result from carcinogen exposure can vary based on several factors. These include route of exposure, extent and duration of exposure, genetic predisposition, and more.

The presence of carcinogenic substances in the workplace setting, and the cases of cancer that result from them, is a significant problem and an issue of concern for many businesses worldwide. It is estimated that up to 6% of all cancer cases result from occupational carcinogen exposure. In the European Union (EU) alone, approximately 120,000 cases of cancer occur annually as a direct result of such exposure, with two-thirds of these cases resulting in death. Roughly half of all annual workplace deaths in the EU are due to corresponding incidences of cancer.

Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive

Updated on a regular basis, the Directive establishes minimum requirements geared toward decreasing or eliminating the presence of carcinogens and mutagens. It acknowledges that the establishment of occupational exposure limits is key to helping ensure the safety of workers. While the Directive's previous revisions have focused on 26 chemical substances, the most recent update features modified occupational exposure limit information on three chemicals in particular: acrylonitrile, benzene, and nickel compounds.

Chemical SubstanceLimit Change
AcrylonitrileNew Limit
Nickel CompoundsNew Limit

The establishment of these updated limits is expected to yield substantial benefits, both for workers (cancer prevention and associated improved health) and their employers (decreased associated costs).

More Information

More information on the EC's most recent revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive can be found in the Commission's Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council Amending Directive 2004/37/EC on the Protection of Workers from the Risks Related to Exposure to Carcinogens or Mutagens at Work. Information on the previous three revisions may also be found from the Commission:

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