Until two years ago, the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive had been determining binding limits only for three carcinogenic substances. In so far three Tranches, the European Commission has now proposed amendments for the Directive: following the completion of the 1st Tranche, which determined 13 limits for carcinogenic substances, there has now also been a breakthrough concerning the 2nd Tranche: in the trilogue negotiations on 11 October 2018, Council and EU Parliament found agreement concerning the diesel engine emissions, which has been a controversial issue for a long time. From the workers’ point of view, a good compromise has been found. However, there is still far-reaching need for action.
Dramatic figures – clear need for action
For years, the Chamber of Labour has been drawing attention to the dramatic figures of cancers and deaths due to carcinogens, hence carcinogenic substances in the working environment: a Study by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) projected more than 100,000 cancer deaths annually in the EU, which were caused by carcinogenic substances. The estimated figure in Austria is 1,800 deaths annually. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) estimates that every second (52 %) work-related death in the EU is a result of work-related cancers. In comparison, 24 % are due to cardiovascular diseases; only 2 % result from injuries/work accidents and 22 % from other diseases.
Conclusion of the trilogue negotiations on the 2nd Tranche
Based on the 2nd Tranche on amending the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, limits for another eight new substances shall now be added. In particular the addition of limits for diesel engine emissions is highly relevant to people working in the mining industry, the railway sector, in freight transport or in warehouses; however, the issue was very controversial among the decision makers. Already in the vote on 27 March 2018, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the EU Parliament had followed the call of the labour representations with a clear majority and supported a limit for carbon of 0.05 mg/m3, which has applied in Germany since 2017. April 2018 saw the start of the trilogue negotiations; however, it took the Member States a long time to accept the parliamentary decision. So far – the reservation of many countries – only Germany and Austria have enshrined a limit for engine emissions im national law. However, now the trilogue negotiations have produced a result, which benefits workers after: concern the limit for carbon, one agreed on the vote by the EU Parliament. So far, the Austrian limit, which lies at 0.1 mg/m³, has been double as high as the future EU-limit. Hence, in Austria too there is room for improvement.
State of the negotiations 3rd Tranche and outlook
Currently the EU Parliament and the Council Working Groups are negotiating the 3rd Tranche, based on which the Commission proposes new limits for another five carcinogens (Cadmium, Beryllium, Arsenic acid, Formaldehyde and MOCA). The EU Parliament is currently working on the compromise amendments; the vote in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs has been scheduled for 30 November 2018. A hearing in the EU Parliament on 9 October 2018 indicated at least partial agreement concerning the limits proposed by the Commission. In addition, MEPs of all factions also demand to include cytotoxic drugs, i.e. cancer-killing drugs, into the Directive – this too is a positive development.
From the AK's point of view, the progress of work to prevent work-related cancers must be welcomed; however it should be accelerated. As envisaged by the Commissioner for Social Affairs Marianne Thyssen, the AK also demands to speedily introduce binding limits at the workplace for a minimum of 50 carcinogens. However, so far only slightly more than half of these have been actually decided at EU level or are currently under negotiation. Apart from that, the Chamber of Labour supports the introduction of a modern, risk-based limit regime. Such a system shall ensure that the risk to contract cancer is equally low for all substances.