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We answer 5 key questions on the Managing Dangerous Substances campaign

Whether you are new to the Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances campaign or have followed it since the beginning in April 2018, these key questions and answers provide a comprehensive overview of the campaign’s key findings and messages. Share this article with anyone interested in the topic and help us keep workers safe and healthy!


What are dangerous substances?

A dangerous substance is any solid, liquid or gas with the potential to cause damage to the safety or health of workers. Exposure can occur through inhalation, skin penetration or ingestion. They are linked to acute or long-term health issues and their presence can put workers and the public at risk of fire, explosion, acute poisoning and suffocation. Whereas the dangers involved in using some substances, such as asbestos or arsenic, are clear, many substances – such as flour in a bakery – can often carry hidden risks. 

Who is affected?

All workers are potentially at risk of exposure to dangerous substances. Overall, 38% of European enterprises report the presence of potentially dangerous chemical or biological substances in their workplaces[1]. Sectors particularly at risk include agriculture (62%), manufacturing (52%), and construction (51%).

Poor management of dangerous substances in the workplace not only puts workers at unnecessary risk, but also results in significant direct costs to companies and health systems. Investing in OSH cuts costs for business and reduces staff turnover.

What are the risks?

A recent EU-OSHA study identified the dangerous substances and sectors that pose the greatest risk to workers in the EU.

Cancer is the leading cause of work-related death in the EU, responsible for around 80,000 deaths each year. The Roadmap on Carcinogens aims to raise awareness of the risks arising from exposure to carcinogens in the workplace, while promoting and facilitating the exchange of good practice tips across Europe. You can also read our article on how to protect workers from carcinogens and work-related cancer.

Many workers in the EU are exposed to neurotoxic chemicals capable of affecting the central nervous system. Employers need to follow a specific set of preventive measures to significantly reduce the risks to workers. Exposure to risks from new technologies, such as nanomaterials, is also on the rise and the risks they pose are still being researched. So be sure to keep up-to-date with developments.

How can I keep my workplace safe?

Developing a prevention culture is key to successfully preventing ill health, injuries and deaths caused by dangerous substances. Use our tools and resources database to get inspired, or find out if your workplace might be affected by using the dangerous substances e-tool. We’ve also published a Q and A which helps discover if your company is managing dangerous substances following occupational safety and health (OSH) legal requirements.

To control and reduce the risks posed by dangerous substances, follow the STOP principle – a hierarchy of prevention measures set out in EU law. You can also read about real-life examples from organisations who have successfully managed dangerous substances, how to provide training and raise awareness, and discover our extensive database of case studies. The right approach for your workplace may already be out there!

For a lighter look at the risks posed by dangerous substances, watch and share Napo videos with your employers and network. These engaging videos with a humorous touch cover topics including how to manage dust at work, the dangers of chemicals and how to protect your skin.

How can I get involved?

There’s still time to get involved in the campaign. You could, for example, get your colleagues engaged with the campaign by sharing videos and visual material. Distributing audiovisual material is a great way to get the message across, as it can be shared on different platforms, and it is easy to understand.

You could also run your own safety and health campaign. EU-OSHA’s revamped campaign toolkit shows you how to plan and run effective campaigns. If you want more information on the campaign, don’t forget to visit the website and engage with our social media channels on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (#EUhealthyworkplaces).