You may have seen the recent media coverage of a US trial that resulted in agricultural company Monsanto being ordered to pay damages of £226 million.
A San Francisco jury ordered the company to pay a former school groundskeeper, who claimed that continued exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killer had caused his terminal cancer.
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has said that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. However, the World Health Organization panel labelled the substance as a “probable carcinogen”.
This case was the first of many pending lawsuits to go to trial, based on an alleged link between glyphosate and cancer.
Plaintiff Dwayne Johnson repeatedly used Roundup weed killer in his job and testified that he had two accidents with the product which resulted in him being soaked in it. The first accident happened in 2012 and Johnson was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014.
Johnson’s case was initially filed in 2016 but was fast-tracked for trial due to the severity of his disease. Monsanto blasted the litigation and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification as lacking in validity, arguing that safety studies over the years prove that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer when used as designed.
However, the jury found that the weed killer, which contains herbicide glyphosate, was a ‘substantial factor’ in Johnson’s illness and Monsanto should have provided a warning label of the product’s potential hazard. The jury also found that the company’s officials acted with ‘malice and oppression’ in their selling of the product despite its risks being known.
Dwayne Johnson was awarded £226 million in punitive damages from Monsanto after the jury ruled that Roundup had caused his cancer and the company had failed to warn him of the health hazards from exposure.
What this means for businesses
At present, there are no plans to reclassify glyphosate under the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) regulations currently operating in the EU. The current hazard classification for glyphosate is as follows:
H318 – Causes serious eye damage
H411 – Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects
Although studies have been conducted into the carcinogenic properties, these have not found any conclusive results to say that glyphosate is a carcinogen. Herbicides such as Roundup and other chemicals of a similar nature have their own set of regulations - The Control of Pesticides Regulations (COPR). Specific controls are advised for their use.
While the classification of glyphosate may well be reviewed in the future, the current classification remains unchanged at this time. This means that the currently authorised pesticides containing glyphosate can continue to be used without the need to fully review the associated controls and risk assessments.
Currently, all existing COSHH assessments for these substances do not need to be reviewed. Should this position change, suppliers and manufacturers will be duty-bound to update their Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and supply those to the end users of their products.
However, due to the high-profile nature of this case, it may well have caused understandable concern in your workforce. Due to this, it may well be pertinent to review your current COSHH assessments to ensure their suitability.
It also is advised to fully open lines of communication with those using pesticides in the workplace, answering any questions and re-assuring them that pesticides containing glyphosate continue to be authorised for use.
Alcumus Sypol’s COSHH management services can help
If you use glyphosate-based products within your business, Alcumus Sypol can help. Our COSHH management system
, which is used by 900 clients across 20 diverse industries, can help you protect your workforce while complying with COSHH legislation.
Call 0129 6678 440 today and let us help your business become safer, healthier and stronger.