minister Lodewijk Asscher

‘Together we have the power to change the game’


Riky had nothing to worry for 60 years. But, there was something that she should have been worried about – something too small to see with the naked eye: a single piece of asbestos floating in the air. Something so small, however, was capable of destroying her life. When Riky was diagnosed with cancer, it was too late to do anything. Carcinogens are ticking time bombs that often detonate only decades later.

While we may feel powerless, we cannot allow ourselves to be powerless. We owe that to the current generation of workers, and to the future ones. Hence we need to do our utmost to eradicate the risk of cancer at work. The Dutch government has been pressing for better protection for workers from carcinogens for years. One way of doing this has been through expanding the list of carcinogens with limit values. We have also made this one of our top priorities during this EU Presidency. I am very pleased that the Commission has proposed a set of 13 protecting limit values for a first group of carcinogenic substances.


An enormous amount of work has been done to prepare this important proposal. Let’s build on this momentum and put our efforts in extending the number of limit values to the 50 most frequently occurring carcinogens at workplaces in the Member States.



'Every employee should be able

to count on the same level of

health and safety protection'


Moreover, these steps will create a level playing field in Europe. Every employee should be able to count on the same level of health and safety protection. We cannot afford competition on this. To me, that is a race to the bottom in the worst kind of way imaginable. The health and lives of workers should not be put at risk.

Together we have the power to change the game. Workers are only protected if employers follow the rules. And workers and employers should both be aware of the risks at stake. For governments there is the responsibility to set the rules and we need scientists to share their knowledge about this topic. We should all work together and try to make this happen.

I hope you will learn a lot at the conference. Yet more importantly, I hope you will disseminate what you’ve learnt. After all, the best practices are the ones that are known by everyone - employers and employees in particular. It is very important that all employers and employees know about the risks of working with carcinogens and how to deal with them.

Not only do we need to increase the coverage ratio of limit values, but also the coverage ratio of knowledge on how to implement the prevention measures.

While we do not have the power to turn back the hands of time, we do have the power to shape the future. So that in 60 year’s time, we don’t say ‘If only we had…’.


“Our recent proposal to add new limit values in the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive provides a win-win-win solution. The proposal benefits workers, businesses and member states.

Firstly – and most important – it will make a huge difference for workers and their families, saving a hundred thousand people from an early death in the next 50 years.

Secondly, it will benefit businesses. It gives employers the guidance needed to protect their workers, enabling them to hold on to their skilled workforce for longer. The new limit values provide benchmarks to improve compliance and enforcement, ensuring European-wide minimum standards of practice, effectively contributing to a level playing field for workers and business. Consequently, this helps us to prevent a race to the bottom.

Thirdly, for the member states too, the proposal has a positive financial impact, reducing the healthcare cost related to cancer treatment and rehabilitation.”




Marianne Thyssen

EU Commissioner of Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility:

‘A win-win-win solution’