EU strengthens protection of workers from dangerous chemicals

March 17, 2022

The Council of the EU has given the go ahead to amend the carcinogens and mutagens directive, which is an EU law to protect workers from risks related to exposure to carcinogenic and mutagenic substances.

The revision will improve workers’ protection by setting exposure limits for acrylonitrile and nickel compounds and lowering existing limits for benzene, says the Council. The directive will from now on also offer increased protection against reprotoxic substances, chemicals which may interfere with the human reproductive system. These substances were previously dealt with under a different law.

According to European Commission data, more than one million workers are exposed to acrylonitrile and nickel compounds and benzene, and 52% of occupational deaths in the European Union each year are due to cancer.

Reprotoxic substances

The limit values for 12 reprotoxic substances that are currently dealt with under another EU law will be transferred to the stricter carcinogens and mutagens directive. The directive will therefore be renamed the carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxic substances directive, or CMRD.

Hazardous medicinal products

Healthcare workers who deal with carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic drugs, so called hazardous medicinal products, will receive better training on how to handle them safely. The new law stipulates that the Commission must issue guidelines on training, surveillance and monitoring of these products.

Action plan

According to the revised directive, the Commission has been tasked to present an action plan to achieve new or revised occupational exposure limits values for at least 25 substances, groups of substances or process-generated substances no later than 31 December 2022 and present legislative proposals, where appropriate.

Next steps

Member states have two years following the adoption date (3 March 2022) to comply with the agreed changes.


In September 2020, the European Commission proposed a fourth update of the carcinogens and mutagens directive. The Council agreed its position on this proposed update on 25 November 2020 and reached a provisional agreement with the European Parliament on 15 December 2021, which was endorsed by the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee on 22 December 2021.


This is valid as of 17th March 2022.

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