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In its response to the first stage consultation with the social partners on the revision of the Asbestos at Work Directive 2009/148/EC and the Chemical Agents Directive 98/24/EC, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is calling on the European Commission to revise downwards the occupation exposure limit (OEL) for asbestos and for lead and its compounds.

According to the ETUC, the OEL currently in force for asbestos in the European Union (0.1 fibres/cm³) does not provide exposed workers with sufficient protection. Based on the recommendations of experts from the International Commission of Occupational Health (ICOH), the ETUC is calling for the establishment of a limit value of 0.001 fibres/cm³ for all EU Member States, i.e. half of the Dutch value, currently the lowest in the EU-27. In the view of the European unions, updating the OELs must be part of a wider plan aimed at eradicating asbestos in Europe. Among other necessary measures, the ETUC is calling for the establishment of inventories of buildings containing asbestos for each European country, better training for exposed workers and European legislation on the recognition and payment of compensation for occupational diseases caused by asbestos. It should be remembered that asbestos is responsible for at least 47 000 occupational cancer deaths a year in the EU.

Lead and its compounds are reprotoxic substances, i.e. causing reproduction problems among exposed men and women. As such, lead and its compounds fall within the scope of the Chemical Agents Directive, where they are the only hazardous substances with a mandatory OEL and biological limit value (BLV). These EU limit values (150 µg lead /m³ and 700 µg lead/L blood) were set in the early 1980s and have not been revised since. The ETUC is calling for these limit values to be tightened, with a view to ensuring a high level of health protection and guaranteeing equal treatment between women and men at work. The BLV of 150 µg lead/L of blood recently proposed in an opinion of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is discriminatory in nature, as it is not protective of the offspring of women of childbearing age. 

The ETUC also criticises the low level of protection afforded by the CAD against risks associated with workers' exposure to reprotoxic substances and reiterates its demand to have such substances fall within the scope of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, as is already the case in the national legislation of eight EU Member States, including Germany and France. Last but not least, the ETUC is calling for the establishment in the Chemical Agents Directive of a mandatory OEL for di-isocyanates, substances widely used in the production of polyurethane foams and the cause of occupational asthma.

Photo credits LianeM

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