Minister Yolanda Díaz maintains the protection of workers in exposure to silica dust in the workplace. It was one of the main unknowns of Spain’s transposition of the European Directive on carcinogens and mutagens, which the Council of Ministers intends to approve this Tuesday, and which expands the list of substances considered carcinogenic during work and establishes new limits on exposure. of certain agents. The conflict was that the previous Ministry of Labor, led by Magdalena Valerio, it was proposed to approve this new list, but with higher permissible exposure values in the case of three substances (silica dust, bromoethylene and acrylamide) compared to what was already required in practice in Spain. Yolanda Díaz, who criticized this decision by Valerio while in the opposition, has finally maintained the existing values, although with a period of one year of adaptation in the case of silica.
A ruling established the responsibility of Silestone manufacturers for failing to warn of the risk of silicosis
Spain is already late in the transposition of this European directive, which it should have adapted to its internal regulations before January 17, 2020. Brussels gave a final touch of attention to the Government a few weeks ago. The European Commission gave Spain and France two months to adopt European legislation, with the notice that otherwise the Community Executive could refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.
The royal decree that the coalition government will approve this Tuesday finally adapts the European directive by modifying Royal Decree 665/1997, of May 12, “on the protection of workers against risks related to exposure to carcinogens during the job”.
On the one hand, it highlights that “jobs that involve exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust generated in a work process” are incorporated as a carcinogen. These are incorporated into Annex I of the 1997 decree, which considers a series of substances, mixtures or procedures in the workplace as a “carcinogenic agent”.
The regulation on crystalline silica dust is especially relevant in Spain. Silica particles are expelled into the environment in the form of dust during the processes of cutting, carving and polishing the quartz agglomerate countertops, which in Spain are exclusively manufactured by the business giant Cosentino under the Silestone brand. The particles of this material are the cause of the increase in sick and deceased workers due to silicosis, which in recent years has become the Andalusia’s main occupational disease.
On the other hand, Annex III is adapted, which regulates the so-called “limit values” of exposure of a carcinogenic or mutagenic agent in the worker’s workplace. This is where unions and technicians specialized in occupational health sounded the alarms. In the draft of the previous Ministry of Labor, the new table of values was expanded, to include limits for 13 substances (compared to the three existing ones), but the text increased the exposure that governed in practice in Spain with respect to the three mentioned substances: silica powder, bromoethylene and acrylamide.
The CCOO and UGT unions warned that the Spanish preventive ordinance had the reference documentation ‘Limits of Professional Exposure for Chemical Agents in Spain’, which has been reviewed annually since 2000, and that it had more guarantee values than it intended to approve Magdalena Valerio. Exposure values doubled and even tripled in the previous government’s draft. In the case of crystalline silica it went from 0.05 mg / m3 to 0.1 mg / m3, in the case of bromoethylene, from 2.2 mg / m3 to 4.4 mg / m3 and in that of acrylamide the advance was greater: from 0.03 mg / m3 to 0.1 mg / m3.
Finally, the table that the Council of Ministers will approve this Tuesday maintains the pre-existing exposure values (0.05; 2.2 and 0.03), although in the case of silica dust a transition period is included for companies to comply with the regulations, in which a limit value of 0.1 mg / m3 is allowed until December 31, 2021, for one year.
During these months, with different central governments, the transposition of the regulations has been long delayed –until not complying with the maximum period– in a context of great pressure from the employers. Entrepreneurs asked to increase the exposure allowed in Spain so that it only met the minimum required by Brussels and the most guaranteeing regulation regarding these three harmful substances would not be maintained. As an argument, the employers insisted that it represented a comparative disadvantage compared to European countries that only respected that minimum set by Brussels.
The text to be approved by the coalition government establishes the occupational exposure limit values included in the directive, except for respirable crystalline silica dust, acrylamide and bromoethylene, “for which they are included, in accordance with the technical criteria of the Institute National Health and Safety at Work, the environmental limit values published by this Institute in the “Document on occupational exposure limits for chemical agents in Spain”, with the transitory period in the case of silica.
It is also noteworthy that protection is extended with respect to two agents, for which the permitted exposure is reduced. These are monomeric vinyl chloride, for which a limit value of 2.6mg / m3 will be required (previously 7.77 mg / m3) and hardwood dust, with a limit of 2 mg / m3, with respect to the 5 mg / m3 prior.