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Does your business use dangerous substances?
Are you aware of the risks that dangerous substances pose to workers and the benefits of dealing with them?
This infographic introduces the basic facts, main risks and prevention measures. Find out about the guidance and many practical tools that can help you manage the risks.
Large enterprises often use more than 1,000 different chemical products (e.g. paints, inks, glues and cleaners) and millions of workers come into contact with chemical and biological agents that can harm them. However, many workers are not aware that they deal with dangerous substances.
In all sectors dangerous substances are present, be it in traditional sectors like agriculture, manufacturing or construction, or 'new and emerging' sectors like recycling or home care. New technologies, expanding sectors and changes to the way work is organised can result in greater risk of harm from chemical agents. Exposure to dangerous substances was reported in different sectors by these percentages:
62Agriculture, forestry and fishing 52Manufacturing 51Construction, waste management, and water and electricity supply
Certain groups of workers may be at greater risk of exposure to dangerous substances in the workplace because they are inexperienced, unaware or physically more vulnerable. People who frequently change jobs or are in temporary or informal work may also be at higher risk. Other workers may also be vulnerable at certain times for different reasons, for example when conducting high risk, non-routine work activity such as maintenance work.
Exposure to carcinogens in the workplace causes the majority of fatal occupational diseases in the EU. Many of these deaths could be prevented. There are specific provisions in the EU to protect workers: according to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, employers must assess and avoid or minimise the exposure to carcinogens or mutagens. EU-OSHA is one of the six partners supporting the Roadmap on Carcinogens initiative.
Around 1.6 million people of working age are diagnosed with cancer in Europe every year
More than 120,000 peopleper year are estimated to develop cancer in the EU as a result of occupational exposure to carcinogens
Approximately 80,000 deaths occur each year due to occupational exposure to carcinogens
About 53% of all work-related deathsare caused by carcinogens
2.4 billion € per year are the direct costs of exposure to carcinogens at work across Europe
Everyone benefits from efficiently managing dangerous substances in the workplace. Active, participatory safety and health management makes a business more competitive, for example by improving productivity.
- Improved workers' health
- Lower sickness absence
- Reduced spending on control measures, personal protective equipment and health surveillance
- Cost savings on fire and explosion protection
- Reduced costs of waste disposal
- Improved reputation in the eyes of customers and consumers
The health problems that can be caused by working with dangerous substances range from mild eye and skin irritation to severe effects, such as birth defects and cancer. Effects can be acute or long term, and some substances can have a cumulative effect.
To protect workers from dangerous substances, the first step is to carry out a risk assessment. Then, actions should be taken to remove or reduce the risks as far as possible. European worker protection legislation establishes a hierarchy of measures that employers need to take to control the risks of dangerous substances.
Elimination of the dangerous substances
Substitution by less dangerous substances, chemical products or processes
Technical measures, like exhaustion
Organisational measures, like separation of work places
Personal protective equipment
Dangerous substances can be found in nearly all workplaces. Across Europe, millions of workers come into contact with liquid, gas or solid agents that pose a risk to workers’ health or safety.