Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: none

European Commission - Fact Sheet

Protecting workers against cancer-causing chemicals: Commission's second proposal on eight additional chemicals adopted - frequently asked questions

Brussels, 20 December 2018

Commission follows up on workers' protection from cancer-causing chemicals: frequently asked questions.

How are workers currently protected under EU legislation? 

The EU principles of worker protection from carcinogens are laid out in the over-arching Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Framework Directive 89/391/EEC and those Directives specifically dealing with chemical risks – notably the Chemical Agents Directive and the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD). 

Under the OSH framework, risks to the safety and health of workers must be eliminated or reduced to a minimum. The Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive sets a number of concrete provisions specific to chemical carcinogens. 

Employers must identify and assess risks to workers associated with exposure to specific carcinogens and mutagens, and must prevent exposure where risks occur. Where possible, the carcinogenic substance should be substituted with a less-hazardous alternative – otherwise carcinogens must, so far as is technically possible, be manufactured and used in a closed system to prevent exposure of workers. Where this is not possible either, worker exposure must otherwise be reduced as much as it can be. 

A lack of national Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) for some carcinogens, and the high levels of others, not only leads to inadequate protection for EU workers but can also have negative consequences for the internal market. It leads to situations, where businesses located in Member States with less stringent levels (where there are no set occupational exposure limit values, or where they are set at a high level, allowing for greater worker exposure) may benefit from an undue competitive advantage. Varied national OELs can create uncertainty regarding appropriate risk management standards. 

From a more general perspective, therefore, OELs promote consistency by defining a 'level playing field' for all users and a common objective for employers, workers and enforcement authorities. The proposal therefore leads to a more efficient system of workers' health protection in the single market. 

Under the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, Member States can adopt a lower (i.e. stricter) national limit than the EU value, consistent with the ultimate objective of the Directive, which is to minimise exposure. 

The European Parliament and the Council adopted the Commission's second proposal to update the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive. What does this change? 

Based on input from scientists, employers, workers, Member States' representatives and labour inspectors, the Commission proposed , in January 2017, changes to address exposure to a further seven priority chemical agents identified through the consultation process. Additional 13 were subject to an earlier amendment of the Carcinogens and  Mutagens Directive, which was adopted in December 2017. During the negotiations, an eighth carcinogen - Diesel Engine Exhaust Emissions (DEEE) - was included by the co-legislators. On 11 October, the European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement at trilogue level on the second update of the Directive. Today's adoption marks the final step in the legislative process. Around 20 million workers will now be better protected against exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. 

Which are the chemicals, which workers are exposed the most?   

The table provides a list of the cancer-causing chemicals and an overview of the sectors concerned, the types of cancer caused, and estimated exposure levels for the eight cancer-causing chemicals newly covered by the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive. 

Liste of the cancer-causing chemicals

Introducing the measures outlined in the new rules will provide employers, workers and enforcement bodies with legal duties and guidance to help ensure that the general principles of the Directive are complied with. This should contribute to a reduction in the exposure to these priority carcinogens with a consequential reduction of the number of workers affected by occupational cancer. 

What benefits will the new rules bring for workers?

First of all, for workers and their families, suffering and worsened quality of life caused by cancer – and other diseases – will be reduced. The new rules also help reducing health care costs, lost earnings, and other costs both for the person affected and for the healthcare systems. In addition, the introduction of proposed limit values would improve legal protection for exposed workers.

What benefits will the new rules bring for businesses?

The new rules will positively affect productivity because workers will be able to remain on their workplaces for longer and investment in training new workers will not be needed.

Identifying used engine oils as process-generated carcinogens will improve clarity for employers and workers, and will establish the legal requirement to eliminate worker exposure wherever possible, across Europe.

In addition, the EU limit values provide a compliance benchmark, contribute to a 'level playing field' in the form of EU-wide minimum standards of protection and improve clarity regarding how exposure should be controlled in different Member States. This is key when striving towards a deeper and fairer single market.

What benefits will the new rules bring for Member States?

For Member States, the new rules will reduce healthcare costs related to treatment and rehabilitation, as well as decrease expenditure on associated inactivity, early retirement and compensation for recognised occupational diseases. It will also reduce the administrative and legal costs related to the handling of requests for benefits and dealing with recognised cases.

How have the social partners been consulted?

Social partners have been consulted through a statutory 'two-stage consultation'. The results of their consultation have fed into the Commission's preparatory work. This included the input provided by the tripartite Advisory Committee on Safety and Health (ACSH), where the social partners and Member States have given their opinion on the limit values proposed in the current initiative.

Social partners supported including further so-called 'process generated substances' (PGSs, substances created by work processes) under the scope of the Directive and revising existing and establishing new OELs in the light of available scientific data.

When will the new rules become applicable?

The second revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive will now be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. The Directive will enter into force as of the 20th day following the publication. Member States will then have 2 years to transpose the Directive.

Does today's adoption mark the end of the revision process of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive?

Scientific knowledge about carcinogenic or mutagenic chemicals is constantly evolving and technological progress enables improvements in the protection of workers. To ensure that the mechanisms for protecting workers established in the CMD are as effective as possible and that up-to-date preventive measures are in place in all Member States, the Directive needs to be regularly revised. For this reason, the Commission has supported a continuous process of updating the CMD to keep abreast with the new scientific and technical developments, taking account of Social Partners' and Member States' views.

The first and second proposals of the European Commission have now been adopted as Directives by the co-legislators. In April 2018, the Commission submitted a third proposal to strengthen the protection of workers against cancer-causing chemicals. This proposal is currently being discussed by the co-legislators.

More information:

Statement by Commissioner Thyssen following the agreement between the EU institutions






Press contacts:

General public inquiries: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 67 89 10 11 or by email

Side Bar