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Reports and Studies

EFBWW policy on the protection of workers exposed to dangerous chemicals at workplaces


Stop cancer at work!

Workers in the construction and wood sectors are still being exposed to dangerous chemical substances in the workplace. Regulations and prevention are lagging behind. Carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals in particular are putting construction workers under strain. Workers are exposed to substances leading to occupational cancers, including crystalline silica dust, asbestos, wood dust, diesel engine exhaust emissions, and some types of welding fumes. Workers may also be exposed to other possible carcinogens like formaldehyde, chromium VI, and PCB. Nanomaterials like carbon nanotubes (CNT) show carcinogenic potential too.

The European Federation of Building and Woodworkers pays great attention to working conditions but also to the development of new products and processes and the prospects of the various industries we represent.

In this context, we are facing a growing dynamic of change and innovations, affecting various aspects of the work of millions of people, as well as customers and the environment. These aspects include new product characteristics, new skills and qualifications at work, possible reductions in the use of raw materials and new material processing methods, but also new hazards to workers, customers and the environment. Industrial use of products and chemicals plays an important role in these innovative processes. While innovation and progress do not conflict with worker protection, they should be based on the principles of replacement and precautionary measures, fostering sustainability and well-being. The classic example of the two-sided nature of this kind of evolution is asbestos fibres: it gave products completely new characteristics, allowed new applications and was used in thousands of products, yet ended up killing hundreds of thousands of people who were exposed to it in workplaces, in homes or just in the environment.

The EFBWW’s general aim is to promote more and better jobs, and to secure safe and sustainable processes that are guided by the precautionary principle. The EFBWW supports the introduction of the highest level of worker protection. To preserve health and workability, all workers should enjoy effective protection from risks from dangerous substances, including carcinogenic and mutagenic substances. Eliminating occupational cancer should become a primary goal for EU policy in the field of occupational safety and health and should be streamlined in all related EU policy areas such as public health and environment.
This policy paper shall contribute to the necessary discussion about the revision of the relevant Directive, i.e. the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (2004/37/EC). After providing some information about the EU Directive and the ongoing discussion process, this document discusses several substances of high concern, i.e.:

  1. asbestos
  2. creosotes
  3. crystalline silica
  4. dichloromethane in paint strippers
  5. diesel exhaust emissions
  6. formaldehyde
  7.  man-made mineral fibres
  8. nanomaterials
  9. wood dust