Press Releases Council of the EU: Exposure to chemicals in the workplace: Council sets out its position

Council of the EU: Exposure to chemicals in the workplace: Council sets out its position

The Council is ready to begin negotiations with the European Parliament on a new initiative to protect workers from health risks linked to exposure to dangerous chemicals. The amending directive on limit values for lead and its inorganic compounds and diisocyanates will set new exposure limits in the workplace and ensure that the EU’s green transition does not come at the expense of workers’ health.

“The EU has a long history of protecting workers from exposure to dangerous chemicals, and the position adopted today by the Council continues that trend. We need to ensure that the people working to make the green transition a reality are shielded from potential health risks.”
Paulina Brandberg, Swedish Minister for Gender Equality and Working Life

While the EU has long protected workers from the potential negative health effects of exposure to lead, these efforts are being stepped up in view of the ongoing transition to climate neutrality. Both lead and diisocyanates are likely to be used in battery production, electric vehicle manufacturing, wind turbines and building renovations, meaning that people working in those areas may be at greater risk of exposure. The initiative aims to significantly lower the existing limit values for lead and to introduce limit values for diisocyanates for the first time.

The Council’s position, or ‘general approach’, maintains the ambitious exposure limits set out in the Commission’s proposal, while also introducing a transitional period (until 31 December 2028) to ensure that member states have sufficient time to effectively implement risk management measures and adapt their production processes to comply with the new biological limit value for lead.

The Council has also introduced specific provisions for workers who already have high levels of lead in their blood as a result of historical exposure, as well as for women of childbearing age. Finally, the general approach includes a requirement for the Commission to issue guidelines on health surveillance, which should include advice on how to implement provisions relating to blood lead levels.

Next steps

Today’s general approach provides the upcoming Spanish presidency of the Council with a mandate to begin negotiations with the European Parliament, with a view to reaching a provisional agreement on the amending directive.


The EU has had rules in place to limit exposure to lead since 1982. Prolonged exposure to lead is known to affect reproductive functions and foetal development, as well as to damage the nervous system, the kidneys, the heart and blood. The Commission’s proposal, which was published on 13 February 2023, lowers the occupational exposure limit for lead from 0.15mg/m3 to 0.03mg/m3, and the biological limit value for lead from 70µg/100ml to 15µg/100ml.

Diisocyanates are a group of chemicals that are widely used in in industry, particularly in the manufacturing of polyurethanes and as hardeners in industrial paints, glues, varnishes and resins. There are currently no limit values for diisocyanates at EU level, yet they are known to cause asthma and other respiratory diseases. The proposal sets a new overall occupational exposure limit for diisocyanates at 6µg NCO/m3 (i.e. the maximum concentration in the air a worker breathes during the course of an 8-hour working day) and a short-term exposure limit of 12µg NCO/m3 (i.e. average exposure over a period of 15 minutes).

Protecting workers: health and safety at work (background information)

Proposal for a directive on the limit values for lead and its inorganic compounds and diisocyanate – General approach

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