Political deal on protecting workers from hazardous substances

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.

A revision of rules to protect workers of carcinogenic and other hazardous substances has been informally agreed on Thursday by Parliament and Council negotiators.

During the negotiations, MEPs secured the inclusion of reprotoxic substances in the fourth Carcinogens and Mutagens at Work Directive (CMD4). These substances have adverse effects on reproduction and can cause impaired fertility or infertility. For 11 of these substances a maximum exposure level will be introduced in the annex to the directive. As a consequence, the directive will be renamed the carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxic substances directive (CMRD).

For those substances that have no specific threshold the employer will have to limit the exposure as far as is technically possible.

Better protection of health workers

MEPs also established that workers who deal with hazardous medicinal products (HMP’s) will receive sufficient and appropriate training, with a view to better protect workers in the healthcare sector. HMP’s are cytotoxic drugs (all drugs with anti-tumoral activity) that contain chemicals that inhibit cell growth and multiplication. The Commission shall, after the consultation of stakeholders, prepare Union guidelines and standards of practice for the preparation, administration, and disposal of hazardous medicinal products at the workplace.

New substances and lower exposure levels

Occupational exposure limits, i.e. the maximum quantity of harmful substances (usually expressed in milligrams per cubic metre of air) that workers can be exposed to, have been set for acrylonitrile and nickel compounds. The maximum limit is revised downwards for benzene.

Additionally, the Parliament has insisted that the Commission will present an action plan to achieve occupational exposure limit values for at least 25 substances or groups of substances before the end of 2022.

Next steps

The informal agreement will now have to be formally endorsed by Parliament and Council to come into force. The Employment Committee will first vote on the deal in the new year.

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