IOSH backs modernisation of European cancer causing agents directive

Proposals to modernise a European Commission directive on exposure to cancer-causing agents in workplaces have been welcomed by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) as “a step in the right direction”.

13 May 2016

The commission today (Friday 13 May) announced its proposed changes to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, which would see new or amended limit values on the maximum concentration for the presence of 13 chemical carcinogens in the workplace.

It says that introducing the limit values will help employers, workers and enforcement bodies meet the requirements of the directive by providing them with an objective measure.

The proposals would save 100,000 lives in the next 50 years, the commission said.

Among the chemicals is respirable crystalline silica. Earlier this year, IOSH held a roundtable discussion in London on how to successfully control exposure to silica as part of its No Time to Lose campaign to raise awareness of work-related cancer.

Silica is a natural substance found in stone, rocks, sand and clay, as well as materials like bricks, tiles, concrete and some plastic composites. It is safe if left alone, however certain tasks can release silica dust which can be harmful if breathed in – with the potential to cause lung cancer, silicosis, emphysema and bronchitis.

Work activities such as laying ballast, sweeping up, cutting concrete, bricklaying, tunnelling and stone working can create silica dust.

Kate Field, head of information and intelligence at IOSH, said: “We are pleased by today’s announcement, which is a step in the right direction. Setting occupational exposure limits across Europe can help to prevent cancers and premature deaths and achieve consistent standards.

“However the best way of protecting people is to prevent exposure in the first place. Relying on measures such as respiratory protective equipment alone is not acceptable; we support a greater shift towards designing out the risk to avoid exposure.”

Kate added: “As well as benefits for workers and their families, cutting exposures to cancer-causing agents has many other economic and societal benefits.

“These include reductions in healthcare, rehabilitation and early retirement costs; lost earnings; lost productivity; losing workers; and the need for compensation.”

Silica is the current focus of IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign.

According to research by Imperial College London, 8,000 people die from cancer and around 14,000 contract the disease each year in the UK because of exposure to a work-related carcinogen. 

Contact Tim Walsh, Head of Communications and Media

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