Employers, suppliers, authorities and Member States all have a role to play in making sure your workplace is safe from the dangers of harmful chemicals. Knowing what these responsibilities are and where to find more information, helps you to understand your rights as a worker.
The safe use of chemicals in your workplace is essential – exposure to hazardous chemicals causes up to 30 % of recognised occupational diseases and tens of thousands of preventable deaths across Europe each year.
By law, in every EU country, you are entitled to get answers to these important questions:
- What are the dangers of the chemicals and products I handle?
- How can I use them safely?
These legal requirements apply equally to all companies whether they manufacture, import or use chemicals.
According to European legislation, employers need to take specific measures to control the risk to workers from dangerous substances.
- Where possible, eliminate the use of a harmful substance by changing the process or product in which the substance is used.
- If elimination is not possible, substitute the harmful substance with a non-hazardous or less hazardous one.
- Where a hazard cannot be eliminated, apply control measures that aim to protect everyone. By law, you should rely on personal protective equipment only as a last resort, when exposure is unavoidable.
- For a number of dangerous substances, there are occupational exposure limits (OELs) that need to be respected.
Employers are responsible for communicating about workplace safety to their employees. The information provided should be reliable, comprehensive and easily accessible. Employees should be able to find out about matters and topics including:
- the findings of their employer’s risk assessment;
- the hazards they are exposed to and how they may be affected;
- what they have to do to keep themselves and others safe;
- how to check and spot when things are wrong;
- who they should report any problems to;
- the results of any exposure monitoring or health surveillance;
- preventive measures to be taken in case of maintenance work;
- first-aid and emergency procedures.
Your safety at work starts with you. Speak to your employer or health and safety representative. Use our website as a source of information.
For hazardous substances, suppliers need to provide safety data sheets and add labels to products that contain the relevant safety information. Your employer has to use this information to put risk management measures in place to make sure you use chemicals safely at your workplace.
The EU regulations on chemicals, for example the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), the Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation (CLP), and the Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR), all have mechanisms in place to protect workers from exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Under REACH, manufacturers and importers must gather and pass on information on the properties of their chemicals so that users can handle them safely. Industry also needs to comply with protective measures required for substances of very high concern.
The European Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work was established in 1989 and guarantees minimum safety and health requirements throughout Europe.
The Classification and Labelling Regulation requires hazards to be clearly communicated to workers and consumers in the EU. Industry must identify the properties of their chemicals (substances or mixtures) that could be harmful to us or the environment. They must classify them in line with the identified hazards.
Hazardous chemicals must be labelled appropriately so that users, whether workers or consumers, can clearly understand their effects and make informed decisions regarding the products they buy and use.
Under the Biocidal Products Regulation, suppliers of active biocidal substances must provide information on the substance. All biocidal products need an authorisation from ECHA or a national authority before they can be placed on the market. The active substances contained in that biocidal product must have been previously approved.
In addition, several other laws regulate safety at the workplace.
The competent authorities in the Member States play a central role in ensuring the safe use of chemicals.
They cooperate closely with ECHA and the European Commission. National authorities evaluate registered substances and are closely involved in adopting ECHA’s evaluation decisions. Member States can propose restrictions for chemicals if their risks need to be addressed at EU level. They can also propose substances to be identified as potential substances of very high concern. Member States also evaluate applications related to biocides.
The national enforcement authorities are responsible for making sure that companies comply with the chemicals legislation.