cover page of "Expert Forecast on Emerging Chemical Risks" report

Major EU Report Cites Emerging Chemical Risks to Workers

A new report from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) titled "Expert Forecast on Emerging Chemical Risks" highlights the growing concern in 21 European countries about workers' exposure to nanoparticles, chemicals, isocyanates, man-made fibers, and complex mixtures. The report identifies the main groups of substances that may pose new and increasing risks to workers, contributing to diseases ranging from allergies, asthma, and infertility to cancers. It says dangerous substances are found in the chemical industry and also in farming, nursing, construction, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

"It is estimated that each year, there are 74,000 work-related deaths linked to hazardous substances encountered in the workplace. This means that 10 times more people die from dangerous substances than from workplace accidents. Many companies do not give enough consideration to the elimination or substitution of hazardous substances. Management of chemical risks is particularly poor in SMEs and subcontractor firms," said Jukka Takala, director of EU-OSHA.

The agency says about 15 percent of European workers report they handle chemical products about 25 percent of the time they spend at work, while 10 percent report inhaling vapors and 19 percent report breathing in dust, fumes, and smoke at their workplaces. REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and restriction of Chemicals) is the system in place for controlling chemicals in Europe and requiring manufacturers to provide Safety Data Sheets.

The report was written by 49 experts across Europe. They ranked nanoparticles first among the list of substances from which workers need protection. Dermatitis and other skin diseases and allergies caused by chemical exposures also were high on the list, with the report saying exposure limits for dermal exposures are needed. Occupations of emerging concern where workers face a high risk of coming in contact with hazardous substances include waste management, construction, and service activities, such as cleaning and home health care.

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