The European Parliament approved on Wednesday October 25 a
binding workplace limit saying mineral workers should not
breathe air with more than 0.1 mg/m3 (milligrams per cubic
meter) of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) particles
This health and safety rule is part of a revision of an
existing European Union (EU) directive 2004/37/EC on protecting
workers from carcinogens and mutagens.
The new rules also specify that the European Commission
"will evaluate the need to modify" this silica in air limit
during a future evaluation of how the law is being
This stems from pressure to tighten this limit still
further, with the EU executive’s Scientific
Committee for Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL), backed by
the Parliament’s lead negotiator - or rapporteur -
for the current legislative discussions, Swedish socialist MEP
Marita Ulvskog, having advised a stricter 0.05 mg/m3 limit.
A key product for the industrial minerals sector, RCS will
be added as a "process-generating substance", meaning dust
created by mining, cutting or crushing of materials such as
concrete, bricks or rocks.
Crystalline silica in the form of quartz or cristobalite
dust is a leading cause of occupational lung cancer, a February
2017 European Parliament briefing note stated.
The directive approved by MEPs at this week’s
Strasbourg plenary session, by 540 votes to six against, with
119 abstentions, sets exposure limits for a further 11
carcinogens (including crystalline silica) in addition to those
covered by the existing directive.
These are 1,2-epoxypropane, 1,3-butadiene, 2-nitroproprane,
acrylamide, bromoethylene, vinyl bromide, chromium (VI)
compounds, ethylene oxide, hydrazine and o-toluidine.
Assuming Wednesday’s vote stands in later
discussions, there will also be a 0.3f/ml (fibers per
milliliter) limit for refractory ceramic fibers. Since these
are used in dryers and kilns, this is also relevant for the
The new legislation further revises exposure limits for two
substances already on the list: hardwood dusts produced by
cutting or pulverising wood and vinyl chloride monomer
– mainly used to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
In Ulvskog’s report on the directive, MEPs also
said the Commission must assess the possibility of including
reprotoxic substances (those affecting sexual function and
fertility) in the directive’s "dangerous
substances" list, which is a priority list of workplace
carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxic substances, by the first
quarter of 2019.
MEPs also agreed that national EU health and safety
authorities must survey the health of workers in their
jurisdictions long after they have left the workplace.
The directive will now go for a second reading; Belgian MEP
Claude Rolin is the main negotiator on behalf of the
Parliament’s largest centre-right European
People’s Party (EPP) group.
This will allow the EU Council of Ministers, representing
member states, to have its say and propose changes - as with
parliament, it has veto rights over the law.
Once a final text is agreed, the new rules will be published
in the EU Official Journal and enter into force 20 days after
publication. Then member states will have two years to
transpose the directive into their national laws.
"[The revised directive] will protect the health of millions
of workers in almost all sectors, especially those employed in
construction, wood-related industries, the paper or chemical
industry," Ulvskog said.
The European Industrial Minerals Association (IMA-Europe)
gave a cautious welcome to the vote on the law.
"This legislation will impact the sector and our downstream
users as there will be compliance costs associated with the
requirements of the directive," IMA-Europe secretary general
Roger Doome told Industrial Minerals.
Certainly, the Commission has accepted the revised directive
will be expensive to enact. A May 2016 Commission impact
assessment accompanying the proposal estimated total costs to
business of introducing the 0.1mg/m3 CRS value at €3.5
billion ($4.11 billion) in the 2010-2069 period.
"However, the prime interest of the concerned industries is
worker protection and the industry welcomes any measure which
would improve workers’ health," Doome also
The legislation would not affect the production of
industrial minerals nor working hours but it could trigger
adaptations in the factory conditions to comply with the
directive, he said.
"[But] to a large extent, the measures have already been
integrated by the industrial minerals and their supply chain,"
Doome told Industrial Minerals. "Bigger adaptations are
expected in the construction sector."
"Industrial minerals producers are prepared to help their
downstream users in reducing workers’ exposure to
process-generated respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and to
inform them of the relevant good practices for their particular
situations," he added. "This will become an integral part of
their product stewardship policies."
Notably, the association supports the 0.1 mg/m3 limit for
RCS, calling it "the main concern for the minerals sector."
It also welcomed the directive’s
acknowledgement of NEPSI, a 2006 agreement initiated by
IMA-Europe on "Workers’ Health Protection Through
the Good Handling and Use of Crystalline Silica and Products
"This reinforces our commitment to continue working together
with NEPSI social partners to enhance worker health protection
and ensure that the NEPSI agreement continues to play a key
role in facilitating compliance with this new European law,"
But IMA-Europe will continue to contest the call to include
substances harmful for reproduction into the directive.
"The provisions of this directive are not intended for
substances with a threshold effect such as reprotoxic agents,"
Doome said, adding that including reprotoxic substances would
necessitate "a complete reshaping of the directive."
For instance, where substances are shown to harm
reproduction, the law would spark requirements to look for
substitute chemicals and minerals, as well as to create closed
systems creating no external pollution.
"[This] would not be appropriate and legitimate in working
conditions below the threshold," he said.
In a January (2017) joint reaction to the
parliament’s proposals at that time, the
association had also criticized the planned obligation that
employers conduct health surveillance on its workers even after
they have left the company.
In a parliament briefing note, cancer is stated as the
leading cause - at 53% - of work-related deaths in the EU, with
around 20 million workers exposed to harmful elements.
The Commission’s explanatory memorandum to the
proposal said the proposed 0.1mg/m3 limit value for RCS could
prevent 99,000 cancer deaths by 2069; the construction sector
accounts for almost 70% of all workers exposed to this
But many MEPs want the stricter 0.05mg/m3 level. In her
report, Ulvskog highlighted that, according to the
Commission’s impact assessment, this value "would
result in 107,350 fewer deaths in 2010-2069 as compared to the