More information about the Dutch Working Conditions Legislation, including the full text articles, can be found here. The statutory policy of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment with regard to working with hazardous substances can largely be found in chapter 4 of the Working Conditions Decree.
The basic principle is that employees can do their work in a safe and healthy manner and if they work with hazardous substances, exposure to hazardous substances must be prevented as much as possible. Employees must be informed and appropriate measures must be taken. The Working Conditions Decree states that the measures are taken in a specific order, in accordance with the occupational hygiene strategy. For working with hazardous substances, a more concrete elaboration has been made in the STOP strategy.
Employers must determine whether employees work safely with hazardous substances. This can be done by comparing the exposure to a substance with the limit value of the substance. If the exposure is lower than the legal or public limit value, then one can work safely. The Social-Economic Council manages the database of Threshold Values for Dangerous Substances in the workplace. This database contains the limit values that apply in the Netherlands and other countries.
Occupational Exposure limit (OEL)
In principle, the OEL for hazardous substances is determined on the basis of the ‘threshold value effect’. This means that no health effects have been demonstrated at concentrations below the limit value. For that reason, it is sufficient if the employer can demonstrate that the exposure to a substance is below the OEL.
This does not apply to substances without a ‘threshold effect’, often carcinogenic and mutagenic substances, and substances that can cause allergies to the respiratory tract: there are health effects even below the official limit values. Therefore, exposure should be kept as low as possible for such substances. In other words: if the exposure is below the limit value, but it is technically possible to reduce the exposure even further (for example by applying the latest technology), the employer is obliged to do so.
A distinction is therefore made between OELs for different harmful substances. Stricter standards apply for substances with a limit value without a ‘threshold effect’. See also information about the STOP strategy.
According to the Working Conditions Act, protective measures should be chosen in a hierarchical order, the occupational hygiene strategy. This strategy has been worked out in more detail for hazardous substances in the STOP strategy.