Health and safety at work: What is the current situation?

In partnership with The European Commission
Health and safety at work: What is the current situation?
By Oleksandra VakulinaFanny Gauret
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Cancer causes more than half of work related deaths on a yearly basis. This crash course shows how the EU is fighting this threat.

One of the biggest health problems which faces workplaces across Europe and indeed the world, is cancer.

It accounts for 52% of annual work-related deaths. 24% happen due to circulatory illnesses and 2% due to injuries. When workers are exposed to carcinogens, their risk of cancer increases - so the EU often update legislation on the precautions employers should take to protect their workers.

What is a carcinogen?

A carcinogen is any substance that increases the risk of cancer.

One common misconception is that synthetic chemicals are the main cause of carcinogenesis however natural materials have a near equal chance of doing so.

Many carcinogenic substances are not immediately toxic - for example wood dust - which can mean a false sense of safety is felt around them. For many materials the risk of cancer is from prolonged exposure rather than brief interactions.

While cancer is a complex disease and certain causal factors are difficult to identify, it is clear that cancers caused by exposure to chemical substances in the workplace can be prevented by reducing or eliminating these exposures.

Does the EU address the problem of carcinogens?

In order to better protect over 40 million workers, the EU has been constantly updating the legislation to address together 26 new carcinogenic substances that have the potential to cause cancer in an organism, and mutagenic substances - those that can change the genetic material of an organism.

The EU lists 26 carcinogenic and mutagenic substances that employers must be cautious of.

These are listed in a directive that employers must abide by. They are required to reduce their employees' exposure to these substances while also educating them on the risks involved. This affects businesses across the EU.

Journalist • Oleksandra Vakulina

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