NS inadequately protected employees from chromium-6

Dutch Railways (NS) employees may have come into contact with chromium-6 between 1970 and 2020. It is not known exactly how often or how much this happened. It is plausible that contact with chromium-6 while working at NS could cause certain disorders. The investigation also shows that NS did not always protect employees according to the applicable rules for safe and healthy working. As a result, employees may have been exposed to more chromium-6 than they should have been. RIVM research shows that, in which Utrecht University (IRAS) collaborated.

Work between 1970 and 2020 examined at 17 locations 

On behalf of NS, the  RIVM investigated whether (former) employees could have come into contact with chromium-6 between 1970 and 2020. RIVM did this for all relevant job groups at 17 maintenance sites. It showed that there were large differences between job functions. There were also large differences between locations and over the years. Employees in overhaul and maintenance companies were most likely to come into contact with chromium-6. These include painters, welders, mechanics, bench workers and workshop cleaners. This happened mainly because they inhaled dust released during work on old paint layers. 

Actual exposure unknown

It no longer appears to be possible to determine how high the exposure to chromium-6 was for employees. The information to make this estimate is not available. This is because until 2014, NS did not measure how much chromium-6 was in the air and dust of the workshops. Also, the number of NS employees who may have come into contact with chromium-6 cannot be determined afterwards. This is because the personnel file, containing the description of exact work activities, can only be kept for seven years by law.  

Insufficient protective measures taken

There appeared to be little knowledge within NS about the harmfulness of chromium-6 and insufficient awareness that chromium-6 could be released when working on old paint layers. During much of the period under investigation, NS therefore took insufficient measures to reduce exposure. For example: installing extraction systems. NS also paid insufficient attention to whether employees were wearing personal respiratory protection, such as dust masks.