25 Oct
cancer

Protecting workers: Council sets new exposure limits for 8 additional carcinogens and mutagens

Yesterday, 24 October 2018, the European Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee approved the provisional agreement reached with the European Parliament on 11 October on the directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work.

Work-related cancer is one of the biggest health problems in the workplace, and the primary cause of work-related deaths in the EU. The new directive will improve protection for at least four million workers. This agreement will help save up to 100 000 lives over the next 50 years. By significantly reducing the risk to workers from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, we have taken a further practical step in fulfilling the objective of our Presidency to create a Europe that protects.

About this measure, Beate Hartinger-Klein, Austrian Federal Minister of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection, explains that the directive amends an existing directive from 2004 by introducing exposure limits to 8 additional carcinogens or mutagens. These are: diesel engine exhaust emissions, mineral oils that have been used before in internal combustion engines, trichloroethylene, 4,4′-Methylenedianiline (MDA), epichlorohydrine, ethylene dibromide, ethylene dichloride, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons mixtures, particularly those containing benzo[a]pyrene. The transposition period will be 2 years. A first revision of the 2004 directive, which set exposure limits to 11 additional carcinogens, was conducted in 2017.

Key factors

The main elements of the agreement are the following:

Diesel engine exhaust emissions: an exposure limit value of 0,05 mg/m3 measured in elemental carbon is established for all diesel exhaust fumes. This limit value will enter into force 2 years after the end of the transposition period, and 5 years after the end of the transposition period for the sectors of underground mining and tunnel construction.

Mineral oils that have been used before in internal combustion engines: the directive establishes a skin notation for used engine oils, indicating the possibility of significant uptake of the substance through the skin. Exposure to used engine oils can be reduced through best practices, such as the use of gloves and other personal protection equipment.

Trichloroethylene: this substance is commonly used as an industrial solvent and in the manufacture of fluorocarbon refrigerants. Under the new rules, workers’ exposure to this substance must be limited to 54.7 mg/m3 for the long term and 164.1 mg/m3 in the short term. In addition, a skin notation is set out, indicating the possibility of significant uptake of the substance through the skin.

Epichlorohydrine: exposure to this substance, which is used for example in the production of plastics and epoxy glues and resins, will have to be limited to 1.9 mg/m3. The directive also establishes a skin notation, indicating the possibility of significant dermal uptake.

Ethylene dichloride: the directive establishes an exposure limit value of 8.2 mg/m3, as well as a skin notation. Ethylene dichloride is commonly used to produce vinyl chloride, which in turn is converted into polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons mixtures, particularly those containing benzo[a]pyrene: exposure to such mixtures can occur during work involving burning processes, such as from combustion engine exhaust. The directive establishes a skin notation, indicating the possibility of significant uptake through the skin.

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