On 1 January 2007, a new – or rather, modified – OEL system was introduced in the Netherlands. As the new system incorporates a number of OELs from the old system that are of use in the private domain (i.e., in industry), an explanation of the old OEL system is available here.
Based on private OELs
The new OEL system is based on private OELs, i.e., OELs that are set by individual companies themselves. More than ever before, employers and employees are responsible for dealing safely with substances in the workplace. This means that they must now together set OELs to prevent damage to the employees’ health owing to exposure to particular substances.
In addition to these private OELs, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment sets public (i.e., statutory) OELS for the following substances:
- Substances for which the EU requires limit values (in practice, these are Binding Limit Values and Indicative Limit Values).
- Substances for which it is not expected that the EU will require a limit. This group comprises substances ‘without owners’ and substances with a large chance of causing damage to health (high-risk substances), including those for which the government deems it necessary to establish a public limit.
Public OELs are listed in Appendix XIII of the Working Conditions Regulations. Appendix XIIIA covers non-carcinogens, and Appendix XIIIB carcinogens. The first list of public OELs was published in the Government Gazette [Staatscourant] of 28 December 2006, no. 252 (Appendices XIIIA and XIIIB of the new, revised Working Conditions Regulations).
In principle, all OELs within the new system (i.e., both private and public OELs) are health-based OELs, with the exception of OELs for carcinogenic and mutagenic substances for which no safe health-based OEL can be set. These substances will continue to be subject to feasibility tests and the results of the tests will play an important role in establishing OEL levels.
As part of their Risk Inventory and Evaluation (RIE), companies must assess their compliance with the health-based OEL for all substances. If they do not comply, they must draw up a plan setting out how they will meet the OEL. This plan must include an overview of the measures to be taken and a time schedule.
Withdrawn statutory and administrative OELs
Provided they are health-based OELs, all statutory and administrative OELs set before 1 January 2007 that are not included in the list of public OELs can used as the basis for determining private OELs.
Procedure for setting public OELs as of 1 January 2007
Substances are divided into four categories:
||‘Normal’ health-damaging substances (i.e., non-carcinogenic substances) for which a safe threshold can be established;|
||Carcinogenic and mutagenic substances with a safe threshold;|
||Carcinogenic and mutagenic substances without a safe threshold;|
||Inhalant allergens without a safe threshold|
Only for substances in categories (3)and (4) are the OELs based in part on the results of a feasibility test.
Substances with a safe threshold
A public (i.e., statutory) OEL is set, based on:
- an ILV or BLV set by the European Commission. These are usually based on the recommendations of the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL). ILVs are incorporated in directives that require EU member states to establish a national OEL for those substances for which an ILV has been set. These national OELs may differ from the ILV;
- a report by the Dutch Health Council. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment creates a Working Programme for this, and issues a request for advice to the SER’s Working Conditions Committee. The Ministry’s current position is that a statutory OEL can only be determined once the Health Council has made a recommendation.
Carcinogenic and mutagenic substances without a safe threshold
To date, this category concerns substances for which a national Working Programme has been established (see above). The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment asks the Health Council to establish exposure levels for these substances on the basis of risk limits. These risk limits are based on what is considered as a ‘prohibitive risk level’ (i.e. prohibiting an additional risk of cancer higher than 10-4 per substance per year) and as the ‘target risk level’ of concentration (i.e., one extra fatality per year as a result of cancer per 1 million employees exposed to the substance). Below this target risk level, no additional protective measures need to be taken.
The Council’s OEL Subcommittee evaluates the feasibility of implementing a statutory OEL at the target level and advises the Ministry on this. In addition to the employers’ confederations and trade union federations, the Subcommittee involves industry organisations in these feasibility tests. These organisations are invited to register their interest in contributing to feasibility tests for certain substances. Occupational Health & Safety Services are invited to indicate the substances about which they would like to be kept informed.
A form (in Dutch) is available to collect information from companies about the feasibility of implementing a statutory OEL for a carcinogenic or mutagenic substance without a safe threshold (download here in Dutch). There is also a suggested report structure (in Dutch) for industry organisations (download here in Dutch).
The results of the feasibility test may lead to a higher OEL being set. In principle, this higher OEL will be evaluated by the Subcommittee every four years to determine whether it can be lowered further, with the ultimate aim of reaching the target risk level.
Exposure to inhalant allergens in the workplace can lead to work-related respiratory allergies. This generally begins with sensitisation (to become sensitive to the relevant substance). Eventually, however, an allergy develops that is harmful to health, even when exposure is minimal.
It is often impossible to define a safe OEL for this group of substances. That is why we have chosen to apply the same approach as in the case of carcinogens for which no safe exposure limits can be set. Instead of an OEL, then, a target risk level will be identified, feasibility testing will be carried out, and a repeat test will be conducted every four years where necessary.
The target risk level states the extent to which exposure must be minimised in order to ensure that the extra risk of harm is negligible or will be reduced to a natural background risk. The feasibility test should not focus on technical feasibility alone, but also on operational and economic feasibility. The target risk level is a 1 per cent extra risk of sensitisation owing to exposure to an inhalant allergen (beyond any inherent sensitisation to a substance). The level of corresponding exposure may differ from one inhalant allergen to the next.
Responsibilities of the OEL Subcommittee
The OEL Subcommittee is responsible for:
- Advising on the implementation of OELS for carcinogenic and mutagenic substances without a safe threshold and inhalant allergens without a safe threshold, based on the results of a feasibility test. This includes advising every four years on whether the OEL can be lowered towards the target risk level;
- Informing industry organisations (and Occupational Health & Safety Services) about developments affecting OELs in the public domain, including draft reports by the Health Council (openbare conceptrapport, OCR) and SCOEL, final reports by the Health Council and SCOEL, the Working Programme of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment and SCOEL, changes and/or developments abroad, and measurement methods;
- Managing the OEL database, which gives interested parties access to information about current OELs, feasibility tests, the recommendations of the OEL Subcommittee, and more;
- Supervising the development of guidelines for working responsibly with chemical substances in the workplace (development of a digital tool);
- Drawing up and maintaining OELs for EU member states and other relevant countries, and making these OELs freely accessible to industry organisations and other interested parties via the OEL database.
Activities of the OEL Subcommittee
First, the OEL Subcommittee informs industries and Occupational Health & Safety Services about developments concerning OELs, providing them with information about the draft and final reports of the Health Council and SCOEL. The focus here is on public OELs and changes to the comparative overview of OELs.
Second, the Subcommittee carries out feasibility tests for proposed public (i.e., statutory) OELs for carcinogenic and mutagenic substances and inhalant allergens that do not have a safe threshold. The current system is to invite parties to register their interest in contributing to feasibility tests for proposed OELs. The sectors indicate the substances in which they are interested or for which they would like to be kept up to date.
Third, the Subcommittee keeps the OEL database (and, of course, the comparative overview of OELs) up to date. Relevant news updates from the Netherlands and other countries is published in the Newsroom.