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98 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 284/111

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Council Directive
amending for the second time Directive 90/394/EEC on the protection of workers from the
risks related to exposure to carcinogens at work’ (1)
(98/C 284/17)

On 25 May 1998, the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under
Article 198 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned
The Section for Social, Family, Educational and Cultural Affairs, which was responsible for
preparing the Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 18 June 1998. The
rapporteur was Mr Fuchs.
At its 356th plenary session on 1 and 2 July 1998 (meeting of 2 July), the Economic and Social
Committee adopted the following opinion by 72 votes to 20, with five abstentions.

1. Introduction Community action would be required in this area, and
is happy to note the steps that have now been taken to
extend the directive to mutagens.
1.1. In 1997, when it adopted the Directive amending
for the first time Directive 90/394/EEC (2) on the
protection of workers from the risks related to exposure 1.4. Overall, the proposed amendment is a further,
to carcinogens at work, (3) the Council invited the logical step towards implementing the principles
Commission to submit a proposal to further amend enshrined in the framework directive. The aim is to
Directive 90/394/EEC. The Council give three main improve the protection of workers against the risks of
reasons for this request: carcinogenic substances at work.

— Appropriate safety standards were to be introduced
to protect workers against the risk posed by muta- 2. General comments
genic substances not already covered by the directive.
— The carcinogenicity of wood dusts was to be 2.1. In general terms, the Committee feels that the
addressed with a view to including them in the Commission proposal marks a significant advance in
directive; the issue of how Directive 90/394/EEC worker protection and improves legal arrangements in
was to be applied to wood dusts was also to be this regard.
— This directive was to be framed to consolidate the 2.2. Mutagens
existing directives on carcinogens at the workplace,
in particular vinyl chloride monomer and asbestos. 2.2.1. The Committee notes that the proposed amend-
ment is based on information from the Scientific Com-
mittee for Occupational Exposure Limits to Chemical
1.2. With the present proposal, the Commission Agents. Accordingly, for risk management purposes at
broadly meets the Council’s request. It should be noted, the workplace, germ cell mutagens and genotoxic
however, that as far as asbestos is concerned, the existing carcinogens are to be treated on a similar basis.
directive remains in force, although it is currently being
revised. 2.2.2. The Committee recalls that, under Council
Directive 67/548/EEC (5) on the approximation of the
1.3. When the first amendment was submitted — on laws, regulations and administrative provisions relating
31 January 1996 (4) — the Economic and Social Com- to the classification, packaging and labelling of danger-
mittee issued an opinion covering fundamental aspects ous substances, mutagens are divided into three catego-
of Directive 90/394/EEC. It may be useful at this point ries. The Committee confirms that only categories 1 and
to refer to the basic components of this opinion. In it, 2 are relevant for the present amendment; these are
the Committee noted that carcinogenic risk is only labelled with the risk phrase R46 (‘may cause heritable
one possible result of chemical effects. It alerted the genetic damage’).
Commission to other, equally serious risks, such as
genetic mutation. The Committee indicated that future 2.2.3. The Committee notes that Category 1 relates
only to substances known to be directly mutagenic to
humans. The ESC is aware that, in practice, this is
(1) OJ C 123, 22.4.1998, p. 21. extremely difficult to prove. For this reason, practical
(2) OJ L 196, 26.7.1990.
(3) OJ L 179, 8.7.1997.
(4) OJ C 97, 1.4.1996, p. 25. (5) OJ L 196, 16.8.1967, p. 1.
C 284/112 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 14.9.98

importance focuses on Category 2 substances. These are 2.3.5. The Economic and Social Committee notes
substances for which there is evidence of ‘heritable that, up to now, limit values for oak and beechwood
genetic damage’ on the basis of ‘appropriate animal dust — and, in some cases, for wood dust in general
studies’ and ‘other relevant information’. The draft — have varied from one Member State to another. The
directive rightly points to the general consensus that, as limit values range from 2 to 10 mg/m3. The ESC
a precaution, mutagens of this type should be treated as feels that, for occupational exposure, a practicable
carcinogens for the purpose of this directive. compromise would be to incorporate a limit value of
5 mg/m3 into the directive initially, and to review this
figure within five years on the basis of scientific findings.

2.3. Wood dusts The ESC would stress that standardized
methods should be developed for the measurement and
evaluation of the air concentration of dust at the
2.3.1. The Committee notes that the treatment of
wood dusts in the proposed amendment is based
on information from the Scientific Committee for
Occupational Exposure Limits to Chemical Agents. The 2.3.6. While the ESC recognizes the problem that
Committee also notes that, to date, there is evidence there is no scientific evidence as to whether the dusts of
only that the dusts of oak and beechwood are carcino- woods other than oak and beech may also be carcinogens,
genic, and, in humans, may in particular cause adenocar- it would nevertheless point out that prolonged exposure
cinoma of the nose and the nasal mucous membranes. to dust of any kind is potentially injurious to health and
Evidence of carcinogenicity for other types of wood is, may lead amongst other effects, to diseases affecting the
the Committee notes, less compelling. respiratory system. In its view, therefore, consideration
should be given to whether the proposed limit of 5 mg
per cubic metre may be applied to all wood dusts, both
hardwood and softwood, regardless of whether they are
2.3.2. For this reason, the Committee feels that, in deemed to be carcinogenic or not. The Commission is
the first instance, direct action is needed to protect urged to set appropriate limit values in a suitable legal
workers against exposure to oak and beechwood dust. framework or in a separate directive.
In this respect, it considers that the Commission proposal
is the logically consistent approach.

2.3.3. On the other hand, the Scientific Committee 2.4. Consolidation in Directive 90/394/EEC of existing
for Occupational Exposure Limits to Chemical Agents Council directives on the protection of workers
has stated that, clearly, other wood types are also under against specific carcinogens
suspicion. That being the case, the Economic and Social
Committee, while endorsing the proposal, has certain
reservations about the fact that the amendment brings
only oak and beechwood dust into the scope of the 2.4.1. With regard to vinyl chloride monomer, the
directive. This can only be a first step. The ESC would Economic and Social Committee would point out that
therefore urge that protection at the workplace be this product is used in only a handful of chemical
expanded to include other wood dusts in the near future. installations in the Community. In these installations,
mainly in the large-scale chemical industry, available
information indicates that the values put forward by the
Commission have long since been met. In the ESC’s
The Committee is aware that it is extremely difficult, if view, therefore, more radical cuts in the vinyl chloride
not well-nigh impossible, to secure epidemiological monomer limit value will be possible in the future. For
evidence of the carcinogenic effects of a whole range of this reason, it endorses the Commission’s announcement
possibly relevant wood types. The Committee would that it will review these values within the next five years
point out, however, that preventative measures cannot on the basis of scientific data relating to health and
be put off until the findings of infallible scientific tests safety at work, in order to determine whether a further
on all wood types have definitely proved positive. reduction is required.

2.3.4. The Committee presumes that, in the wood 2.4.2. As for asbestos, the Economic and Social
processing sector, experience of this type of industrial Committee notes that the existing directive, and its
protection will be gained following the introduction of various specific provisions, are not to be consolidated
uniform limit values for oak and beechwood dust. As with the current Directive on the protection of workers
more experience is brought to bear in this field in the from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens at
Member States, it will be possible to discuss the technical work. The Commission intends to await reactions
feasibility of extending such industrial protection from the Council and the European Parliament to its
arrangements to all suspected carcinogenic wood types. communication on the provisions of Directive
14.9.98 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 284/113

83/477/EEC. (1) In this respect, the ESC feels it is 3.2. The Committee feels that items 5 to 7 added to
appropriate to postpone any decision on whether the Annex I are consistent and, on the grounds set out in
arrangements for occupational exposure to asbestos the general comments, either advisable or tenable.
should be incorporated into this directive.
3.3. As things stand, the Committee endorses the
agents and their limit values added to part A of Annex III.
However, these arrangements must be consistently
3. Specific comments reviewed on the basis of new scientific data, at the latest
after five years.
3.1. The Economic and Social Committee welcomes
the new wording of Article 1(4) which states that the
provisions of this directive are to apply to asbestos 3.4. The Committee welcomes Article 2, which
where they are more favourable to health and safety at repeals Directive 78/610/EEC on the approximation of
work. laws, regulations and administrative provisions on the
protection of health of workers exposed to vinyl chloride
monomer. The repeal of this directive will facilitate
(1) COM(96) 426 final, 5.9.1996. administrative simplification and deregulation.

Brussels, 2 July 1998.

The President
of the Economic and Social Committee


to the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee

The following amendments, which received more than one quarter of the votes cast, were rejected during
the course of the deliberations:

Point 1.2

Add new paragraph at the end:

‘The Committee furthermore notes that the proposal does not clarity how the provisions of the Directive
could be applied to wood dusts, which was requested by the Council in its Common Position (EC)
No 3/97 of 2 December 1996, amending for the first time Directive 90/394/EEC (see Official Journal of
the European Communities No C 6, dated 9 January 1997, pages 15-20 — Statement of the Council’s
reasons IV.2 second indent). The Committee is of the opinion that several articles of the directive cannot
be applied to wood dust as such and invites the Commission to study the applicability of the provisions
on dusts from oak and beech in more detail before including “work involving exposure to wood dusts
from the following species: oak and beech” in the directive.’

Result of the vote

For: 33, against: 56, abstentions: 8.

Point 1.4


Result of the vote

For: 30, against: 59, abstentions: 11.
C 284/114 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 14.9.98

Point (second part of the tabled amendment)

‘In order to avoid distortion of competition and to prevent “social dumping” the importation of wood
and wood products from countries which do not have such a limit and do not apply similar safeguards
should be restricted.’

Result of the vote

For: 29, against: 62, abstentions: 13.

Point 2.3.2

Replace the last sentence ‘In this respect ... consistent approach’ with the following:

‘The Committee however feels that Directive 90/394/EEC cannot be applicable to dust of oak and
beechwood as such and that other, more effective routes to come to the introduction of an Occupational
Exposure Limit for oak and beechwood dust should be explored.’

Result of the vote

For: 25, against: 60, abstentions: 6.

Point 2.3.3


Result of the vote

For: 26, against: 63, abstentions: 5.

Point 2.3.4


Result of the vote

For: 26, against: 62, abstentions: 6.


Add a new paragraph:

‘The requirements of the directive should be modified to take into account the special nature of the
wood industry, particularly in relation to sealed containers and closed systems, which are virtually
impossible to achieve in many wood-working processes. This gives rise to the thought that the protection
of workers in the timber trades might be better achieved by the introduction of a separate directive to
deal with wood dusts, where the conditions and problems which are specific to this industry could be
dealt with adequately.’

For: 25, against: 55, abstentions: 8.

Point 2.3.5 (first part of the tabled amendment)

‘Delete the last part of the final sentence after “directive”.’

For: 26, against: 67, abstentions: 4.