Background

Although considerable progress has been made to protect workers who handle chemicals, occupational exposures to hazardous substances are still a significant cause of health damage, occupational disease and may even have lethal consequences. Statistics show that exposures to carcinogens and other hazardous substances cause significant suffering and costs, both for employees and employers as well as the society at large. Relevant chemical agents include carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxins, dermal and respiratory sensitizers as well as other substances causing damage via inhalation or skin exposure.

Despite long-existing EU legislation for workers’ protection (and sometimes even longer national traditions), aggregated data on workplace risks from chemical exposure only exists at national level in a selected number of Member States. There has not been a collection of such data in a harmonised way at EU-level. Such information should be readily available for political decision-makers, trade associations, workers and unions. A database is required containing sufficient data to be representative of the situation at European level.

Information in existing Member States’ databases is difficult to compare, because the collection methods, documentation, evaluation standards, and information formats are not harmonised. Hence, it is difficult to interpret data, whilst data mining and comparison from different databases is almost not possible. Moreover, data protection rules only allow free access to data owners; in many cases they restrict access for other parties, such as scientists or other interested stakeholders (e.g. political decision makers). Finally, most databases are only available in the language(s) of the respective Member State.

The implementation of political measures and strategies for targeted workplace risk assessment and risk management requires knowledge on which substances are used at which workplaces (sectors, occupations) and via which technologies. Based on information on the occurrence of hazardous substances, the exposure levels resulting from their use, and the number and type of workers affected, appropriate risk management measures can be planned and implemented that target high risk areas.