MEPs on the EU Employment Committee and the European Council have approved revised legislation to protect workers from carcinogenic and mutagenic substances.
The revision of the 2004 directive, which covers health and safety in the workplace and occupational health, would see diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEEs) from heavy vehicles added to the list of harmful substances which to which exposure is limited to protect workers from occupational sickness. 12 million workers across the EU are potentially exposed to DEEE fumes at work, putting them at risk of cancer, respiratory disease and skin problems.
Immediate symptoms of DEEE exposure can include irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract; prolonged exposure can cause coughing and breathlessness. Sustained occupational exposure leads to an increased risk of lung cancer.
DEEEs are considered more hazardous to the health than fumes from petrol engines; as they contain more soot and particulate matter. They emit primarily from buses, lorries and tractors, along with other large diesel-fuelled vehicles. Workers considered in particular need of protection from DEEEs include bus drivers, lorry drivers, police officers and traffic wardens.
The new restrictions to protect workers cover both air and skin exposure to an additional five carcinogenic substances:
- Ethylene dibromide; and
- Ethylene dichloride.
Cancer is currently the leading cause of work-related deaths in the EU, accounting for approximately 53 per cent of all EU work-related deaths. Around 120,000 cases of cancer resulting from carcinogenic exposure at work occur each year, with around 80,000 per year proving fatal. Over 30 million tonnes of cancer-causing materials are produced annually within the EU.
Employment Committee Chair Marita Ulvskog said the revisions would protect workers from job-related illness and death, adding: “this agreement…will prevent more than 100,000 deaths caused by cancer over the next 50 years and is a milestone on the path to delivering the European Pillar of Social Rights.”
The new measures will be voted on by the European Parliament in December.