A major initiative in the EU’s battle against cancer has been the Beating Cancer Plan. When the UK’s exit from the UK becomes fully finalised, what will the implications be for occupational health and safety in the UK, especially in relation to cancer hazards in the work place?
If we look at what our European neighbours plan, we see the European Commission has presented legislative proposal on occupational safety and health (OSH).
The proposed fourth revision of Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD) sets new or revised binding occupational exposure limit values for three substances that can cause cancer. It is noted that 120,000 work-related cancer cases occur because of exposure to carcinogens in the EU, leading to approximately 80,000 fatalities annually, making cancer the cause of half of the deaths linked to work. Estimates showed that more than 1.1 million workers in a wide range of sectors would benefit from improved protection by the proposed changes. With this revision, new or updated limits will have been put on 27 carcinogens since 2014. Just because the UK will no longer be an EU member, these risks do not apply any less to the British population.
There are concerns that construction workers will likely be exposed to more insulation products and waste in the coming years, as the European Commission recently stated that the renovation rate in the EU member states must double to reach the 2030 climate target. the Last week the Commission explained how it wanted to achieve this in its Renovation Wave communication.
One issue under discussion is whether workers in the construction sector need additional protection when handling with mineral wool, a commonly used insulation material. It is manufactured with the carcinogen formaldehyde as binder, which has been on the trade union’s priority list, and was regulated under the CMD in 2019.The EU Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of substances classifies mineral wool itself in general as suspected carcinogen. However, certain exemptions apply, and the CMD does not currently protect workers from mineral wool.
The Occupational Health Consultancy has said that Health & Safety standards in the UK will not change because of Brexit, explaining that the HSE website has further information on the legislation and that the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 ensures that whatever happens there will be a certainty for the UK Health and Safety duty holders. Minor changes are corrected by the Act to account for the change from ‘European Union’ to ‘United Kingdom’. So it it would appear that the UK can broadly expect UK health and safety standards to stay broadly in line with European norms. But is there not perhaps an opportunity for the UK to go further in some cases, offering more protection that its citizens received when in the EU?
The UK no longer has any influence over whether the European Union will address the concerns surrounding the use of mineral wool. But perhaps there is an opportunity for the UK post-Brexit to tackle this issue and protect both home-owners and construction workers who handle such materials as the commonly used insulation mineral wool.