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March 4, 2013

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European Commission seeks amendments to Chemicals Directives

The European Commission has proposed amendments to five health and safety Directives to improve protection of workers from risks related to exposure to chemicals in the workplace.

The plans seek to align five Directives: two relating to protection of workers from carcinogens and mutagens, and chemical agents; one that focuses on requirements for the provision of safety and/or health signs at work; and on each relating to the protection of pregnant workers and young workers.

The revisions are designed to align the Directives with the latest rules on classification, labelling and packaging (CLP) of chemicals. These were laid down in a 2008 EU Regulation, which aims to adapt EU legislation to the United Nations’ Globally Harmonised System (GHS) for the classification of chemicals by June 2015.

Under the CLP, manufacturers and suppliers of chemical substances provide harmonised labelling information on hazard classification – alerting the user to the presence of hazardous chemicals, the need to avoid exposure, and the associated risks.

Employers use this information to put in place appropriate risk-management measures, such as process enclosure, ventilation systems and the use of PPE, to protect workers’ health and safety. The GHS aims to inform users about chemical health hazards via the use of harmonised communication elements, such as pictograms and hazard and precautionary statements on packaging labels and safety data sheets.

Laurent Vogel, who has been monitoring these issues for the ETUI, said the proposals “will not fundamentally give workers better protection from chemical risks”.

He added: “The Carcinogens Directive review is painfully slow going. There is nowhere near a consensus on extending it to reprotoxins, even though REACH regards them as substances of high concern. In the same vein, EU protection for workers against endocrine disruptors is lagging seriously behind.”

The proposal has been the subject of two rounds of consultation with employer and trade-union representatives at EU level, as well as discussions in the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work. The European Parliament and the EU’s Council of Ministers will now discuss the proposal prior to its adoption.

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