You are here

New study sheds light on most dangerous substances and sectors at risk in the EU

The study, commissioned by EU-OSHA and carried out by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, used new methods to identify the dangerous substances and sectors that pose the greatest risk to workers in the EU. Here we look at the main findings and offer suggestions as to how companies can protect workers.


The analysis

The study collected data from a number of publicly available sources . Then using the in-depth knowledge and insight from experts in chemical risk assessment and industrial hygiene in the EU, the data were collated and linked, or merged, in several ways to allow further sub-selection and analysis.

The most dangerous substances and the sectors at risk

Based on the distribution of 319 important dangerous substances, the research identified the top 5 sectors at risk:

1. Trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles
2. Manufacturing of chemicals and other chemical products
3. Services to buildings and landscape activities
4. Manufacturing of rubber and plastic products
5. Specialised construction activities

The list should not be taken as definitive; there is a clear absence of certain industries where exposure to dangerous substances is well documented. This is due, in part, to the low level of self-reporting in certain industries, such as farming or forestry. There is also an issue of reduced awareness among workers in some sectors.

The research also identified the most important dangerous substances, with experts selecting the following top 5:

Silica: affects a broad range of industries and affects a large number of workers, including those involved in construction, mining and manufacturing.
Asbestos: presents a hazard to construction and building workers. Although prohibited in new building materials, asbestos is still present in existing materials and workers may not be aware of its presence.
Solvents: workers in many industries are at risk of being exposed to solvents and emissions.
Non-infectious biological agents: exposure particularly occurs in the waste recycling industry. Exposure is difficult to control and currently there are no established occupational exposure limits.
Wood dust: a process-generated substance classified as a carcinogen, wood dust affects large numbers of workers handling or processing. Get advice from Napo in… dust at work.

The research also looked at the prevalence of exposure of the EU workforce. Health workers, construction workers, residential care workers, maintenance workers and mechanics were found to be most likely to be exposed to dangerous substances. Although not in the top 5 sectors at risk from the most dangerous substances, the relatively high number of health and residential care workers in the EU explains the high number of reported exposures.

Prevention and control

What can you do if workers in your company are at risk from dangerous substances? First, you should check that you are following Occupational Safety and Health legal requirements. You can also use the Data Summary Information sheets produced within this report for each dangerous substance and feed this information into your company’s risk assessments and prevention strategies.

The full report discussed here is available on OSHwiki, and be sure to check out the various practical tools and publications available on the campaign website to help companies prevent and control exposure to dangerous substances. There are also more facts and figures to discover and share with your network. And don’t forget to follow the Healthy Workplaces Campaign on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (#EUhealthyworkplaces).