Carcinogens in the workplace: EU protection regime to include new substances

Met dank overgenomen van Europees Parlement (EP) i, gepubliceerd op dinsdag 27 maart 2018.
  • New exposure limits set for cancer-causing toxins, including diesel fumes
  • Better protection for 4 million workers in the EU i
  • Sectors affected include construction, metal and car industrie

New EU rules to better protect workers from exposure to carcinogenic and mutagenic substances were backed by the Employment and Social Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

MEPs backed the Commission proposal to set exposure limit values (the maximum amount that a substance should be present in workplace air) and/or skin notations (the possibility that a substance could be significantly absorbed through the skin) for harmful carcinogens.

They also agreed to regulate exposure levels for oils used in automobile, rail, marine and aero-transport engines and portable machinery. The Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits has identified that such oils could be absorbed through the skin with potentially harmful effects.

In order to protect the 4 million workers in the EU who are potentially exposed to diesel engine exhaust emissions, MEPs finally amended the original proposal to add exposure limit values also for diesel fumes.

See details on the affected substances in the background section of this press release.

Jobs at high risk of exposure to carcinogens

This second revision of a 2004 directive intends to further lower the risk for workers of getting cancer, which is the primary cause of work-related deaths across the EU.

A study conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work showed that the workers who are most at risk from workplace carcinogens are employed in the following sectors:

  • construction,
  • the metal industry,
  • tool manufacture and
  • car and repair industries.

The research further proved that workers employed in low-qualified jobs are more frequently exposed to high levels of carcinogens than white-collar workers.


Rapporteur Claude Rolin (EPP, BE) was keen to emphasise the practicalities of the revisions, as well as the importance of future progress: “Firms and workers will be made more aware of the substances they have been handling and will be able to reduce exposure to these materials,” he said. “Cancer is the main cause of workers’ deaths in the European Union. I hope that an initiative like this can inspire further improvements to standards.”

Next steps

The draft report was adopted by 41 votes to 0, with 7 abstentions.

Negotiations between Parliament and EU Ministers can now start, as the member states have already adopted their negotiating position.


  • The that would be subject to exposure limit values and/or skin notations are: trichloroethylene, 4,4-methylenedianiline, epichlorohydrine, ethylene dibromide, ethylene dichloride and mixtures containing benzo(a)pyrene.
  • Oils that would be covered under the changes include UEOs (Used Engine Oils), substances used in automobile, rail, marine and aero-transport engines and portable machinery, including chain saws and lawn mowers.
  • Diesel engine exhaust fumes are included under the proposals.

The European Commission decided to update the 2004 directive in steps, on the basis of available scientific analysis. The first revision was completed in December 2017 and started to apply on 16 January 2018.

A proposal covering a third batch of cancer-causing substances is planned for 2018.

Further information:

EP Research briefing: Limits on exposure to carcinogens and mutagens at work: second proposal

EP briefing: Limits on exposure to carcinogens and mutagens at work

Procedure file

For further information contact:

Samuel Thomas STOLTON

Press Unit

+32 22832203 (BXL)


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