‘Safe working procedures’ can come in place as accepted alternatives for groups of businesses performing the same activity, instead of performing measurements and comparing with limit values for each company, for each activity, for each substance.
Safe working procedures (SWPs) can serve as a feasible alternative when substance substitution is not yet possible or when it is difficult to measure exposure to meet occupational exposure limits. Several EU member states have seen positive results for businesses who adopt these procedures, resulting in a healthier workplace. It is crucial for these procedures to be practical and easily implemented by businesses. The goal of this challenge was to collect information on SWPs and good practices (GPs) from across the EU and share them with stakeholders.
The challenge tasks aimed to gather information on the use and implementation of SWPs and GPs in EU member states and provide advice on how to proceed with SWPs to reduce exposure to carcinogens. To accomplish this, we organized meetings with French and German partners, sent out a questionnaire to all Roadmap partners, and held a workshop with relevant stakeholders. Our goal was to collect valuable insights and share best practices to help reduce exposure to harmful substances in the workplace.
Challenge 4.3 conclusions in a nutshell
There are numerous GPs in EU member states, many of which are listed on the Roadmap on Carcinogens website under “Solutions”. However, there are considerable differences among GPs in terms of level of detail, and many are only available in the native language of the country in which they were created, limiting their applicability. SWPs are also present in EU member states. Yet, these procedures are often not substantiated with measurements. If this way, it can not be ensured that worker’s exposure truly is below the legal limit value.
In the Netherlands, there are SWPs for asbestos and welding fumes which are validated with measurements. Also, there is a website with a wide variety of tools (e.g. dust extractors) that have been tested to derive a material-specific duration of safe use (https://stofvrijwerken.tno.nl/en/). In Germany, there are clear and elaborate descriptions of exposure scenarios, called EGUs and VSKs.
One of the main challenges is confusion on the difference between SWPs and GPs. SWPs are very detailed, material and task-specific procedures that should preferably be validated with exposure measurements. GPs have not necessarily undergone this validation process and are much less detailed.
Another challenge is regulatory acceptance of SWPs. In the Netherlands, for example, the Labour Authority does not automatically approve SWPs as standalone products, which has limited the development and implementation of SWPs in the country. The Dutch SWP for welding fumes shows that cooperation between sector organizations and the labor inspectorate in the development and use of an SWP greatly increases compliance and is especially attractive for small-medium enterprises, that often lack financial means to perform measurements themselves.
Validated SWPs have the potential to be a cost-effective and efficient way for employers to demonstrate that their workers are not being exposed to hazardous substances above the legal limit value. The first step towards the development and use of validated SWPs is to increase awareness of the concept and its benefits, as well as the cost-effectiveness of using SWPs in the long-term. In addition, it should be mentioned that authorities, labor inspectorates and sector organization can all contribute to the development of validated SWPs by e.g. seeking cooperation, intensifying enforcement and initiating partnerships. By doing so, we can work towards creating healthier and safer workplaces across the EU.
Below you can find the original activities, milestones and deliverables that had been envisioned when starting this challenge in 2021.