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Q and A: find out if your company is managing dangerous substances following OSH legal requirements

The EU has put in place a host of legal provisions to protect workers from the harmful effects of dangerous substances. But how does it work in practice? And how do you ensure that everything is in place to protect the workers in your company?


Do you know which chemicals or dangerous substances are present in your workplace?

EU OSH legislation aims to cover all dangerous substances found in workplaces. Employers must check and register all chemicals and dangerous substances present in their workplaces. These can be:

  • Chemical substances or products that are purchased from suppliers. For these substances safety data sheets must be provided by the supplier.
  • Dangerous substances generated by work processes, such as diesel engine exhaust emissions, welding fumes, silica dust.
  • Naturally occurring materials, such as crude oil, grain dust or flour.


How do you get an overview on chemical products and substances found in the workplace?

Chemical substances and products are covered by the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation and the Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). A database containing the labelled and classified chemical substances is available on the ECHA website. For generated and naturally occurring substances you need specific information on possible risks, often provided through guidance and support material from public or professional institutions.


Do you know the legislation on the use of dangerous substances at work?

If you are an employer, the law requires you to manage the use of chemicals and other dangerous substances at work and protect your workers. One of the first things to do is to get to know the requirements of the legislation.

With regard to dangerous substances in the workplace, the most specific and overarching European directives are the Chemical Agents Directive (CAD) and the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD). The basic occupational safety and health (OSH) requirements for an enterprise are set by the OSH Framework Directive. These directives have been transposed into national legislation in all EU countries.


Do these rules cover all dangerous substances?

There are some specific OSH directives that regulate, for example, workplace exposure to asbestos or set exposure limits for specific substances. Other directives aim to protect specific groups, such as young workers or pregnant or breastfeeding women, from certain substances. Further details on EU legislation are available on the EU-OSHA website and a brief information sheet provides the essentials of the legislative framework for dangerous substances.


What actions does the OSH legislation require?

The OSH Framework Directive defines the basic organisational requirements for OSH in companies.

  • Delegation of OSH responsibilities.
  • Assigning safety and health delegates and/or contracting preventive services.
  • Consultation and training on OSH.
  • Instructing and training workers.
  • Performing mandatory risk assessments including necessary preventive measures.


What steps do you have to take to reduce the risks to workers?

Both EU and national rules make it clear that risk assessment is an absolutely essential precondition for successful risk prevention. Fortunately EU-OSHA has many tools available online to help, such as the new dangerous substances e-tool and OiRA, which offers a risk assessment module on dangerous substances for certain sectors.

Next you need to draw up an action plan on the steps your company needs to take. This should be an ongoing process which is regularly reviewed and updated so that improvements are assessed and revised as required. This could be useful when introducing new chemicals to the workplace or when a certain chemical product is found to be causing harm, for example.

Other practical tools and guidance, including case studies and many good practices examples, are also available in the campaign website to help you in the safe management of dangerous substances. 


Are safety and health rules the same across the EU?

EU law often lays down only the minimum requirements or general prescriptions. All EU countries can include extra, more detailed or more stringent provisions for the protection of workers, such as restrictions on the use of some work processes.  

Find out more about legislation on managing dangerous substances on the campaign website, and don’t forget to follow the campaign’s social media channels on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (#EUhealthyworkplaces).