Employees of Dutch Railways (NS) may have been exposed to chromium (VI) between 1970 and 2020. Although it is not known exactly how often or how much this occurred, it is reasonable to assume that NS employees who were exposed to chromium (VI) may develop certain medical conditions. The study also showed that NS did not always adequately protect its employees in accordance with the applicable rules for occupational health and safety. As a result, employees may have been exposed to more chromium (VI) than was necessary. This is the outcome of a study conducted by RIVM.
Review of work performed at 17 locations between 1970 and 2020
NS commissioned RIVM to investigate whether current and former employees may have come into contact with chromium (VI) between 1970 and 2020. RIVM did so for all relevant job groups at 17 maintenance locations. The results show major differences between roles. Significant differences can also be seen between locations and across time. Employees of overhaul and maintenance companies were most likely to come into contact with chromium (VI). This includes painters, welders, mechanics, fitters and workshop cleaning staff. Exposure mainly occurred due to inhalation of dust released when working on old layers of paint.
Actual exposure unknown
It is no longer possible to determine how much chromium (VI) employees may have been exposed to. The information needed to make this estimate is not available. Until 2014, NS did not measure how much chromium (VI) there was in the air and dust in its workshops. In addition, it is no longer possible retrospectively to determine the number of NS employees who may have come into contact with chromium (VI). This is because the law states that personnel files – which contain a description of the exact work activities performed – may only be kept for seven years.
Inadequate protective measures taken
According to the study, there was little knowledge within NS regarding the harmfulness of chromium (VI) and a lack of awareness that chromium (VI) could be released when working on old layers of paint. During a large part of the period under review, NS therefore did not take adequate measures to reduce exposure, such as installing extractor units. NS also failed to monitor sufficiently whether employees wore personal respiratory protection, like dust masks.
Insufficient information provided to employees
Employees received little information about the dangers of chromium (VI). In addition, they did not regularly undergo medical examination for exposure to chromium (VI) or the effects of such exposure. Over time, more attention was paid to occupational health and safety. NS also started working with quality control systems, such as procedures and protocols.
Additional risk of illness due to chromium (VI) undetermined
Chromium (VI) can cause various illnesses and conditions, including certain types of cancer, allergies, chronic lung diseases and perforation of the nasal septum. Most of these conditions can also have other causes. Because the level of exposure to chromium (VI) at NS is unknown, the additional risk of illness due to chromium (VI) cannot be determined.