European Parliament tells Commission “Do better on workplace cancer”
Earlier this week the Employment Committee of the European Parliament voted 38 to 6 in favour of calling for important changes to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive.
This is a major step forward. Not just because changes to the directive were long overdue, but because the Committee went further than had been proposed by the European Commission, and did so with a very large majority.
The Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive is an important regulation that covers workplace cancers. Cancers are responsible for well over half of all work-related deaths, and these can be avoided with strong regulation and enforcement.
So it was a welcome step when, after many years and a strong trade union campaign, the European Commission finally proposed a number of changes to the legal maximum limits for a number of cancer-causing chemicals. The number proposed was very disappointing (13 out of 50 put forward for consideration by unions). Also the proposals were, in some cases, rather modest to say the least. An example is crystalline silica, where the Commission proposed an occupational exposure limit value of 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre, which is the current limit in the UK and double that in the USA. If that limit were to be introduced across Europe, it would still lead to five million workers being dangerously exposed to the substance. Similar concerns were expressed over proposed limits for some of the other substances.
It was because of the overwhelming evidence of the scale of the problem that the Employment Committee agreed that what the Commission was proposing was simply not good enough and said that they had to go further. The changes agreed were all a big step forward are included:
Including substances that are toxic to reproduction in the Directive.
Reducing the exposure limit for Respirable crystalline Silica to the same level as the USA – 0.05 mg/m³, although there is a transition period of between five and ten years.
Improved limits for wood dust and Chromium VI.
The fact that the Employment Committee of the European Parliament has decided this is a rap over the knuckles for the Commission. Basically they are saying that they need to do more to combat workplace cancers. Unfortunately the European Commission does not have to accept the decision of the European Parliament and there will be some negotiation over the limits over the next few months, but I hope that the MEPs will stand firm. In the UK we also have to make sure that, at an absolute minimum, the British Government adopts any changes.
Of course the decision to support the changes was not unanimous. Despite the support of all the main groups from the right left and centre, there were a small number of dissenters. These were from right-wing nationalist parties in Poland, Slovenia and Germany, France’s National Front………and the British Conservative Party.