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The Senate Commission for the Investigation of Health Hazards of Chemical Compounds in the Work Area, the so-called MAK Commission, provides scientific advice to the DFG Senate and federal/state governments, parliaments and authorities on health protection issues in connection with exposure to hazardous substances, especially in the field of occupational safety.
The MAK Commission is the DFG’s oldest commission, having been established more than sixty years ago. It is currently chaired by Professor Andrea Hartwig, Professor for food chemistry and toxicology, Karlsruhe.
Healthy and safe workplaces are enormously important to society. New challenges constantly arise from the use and appearance of new substances and compounds whose effects on health are often not sufficiently understood at first. One well-known example is the increasing use of nanomaterials.
Occupational health and safety is ensured at the regulatory level in the area of chemicals and substances by setting threshold limit values which must be adhered to by the employer. In many cases, the MAK Commission develops the scientific basis for this threshold setting, which is carried out by the Committee on Hazardous Substances, a consultative body of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. With the support of the Commission’s Scientific Secretariat, the latter collects all available information on substances and, on this basis, draws up scientifically based recommendations for maximum workplace concentrations (MAK values) in the air, as well as for biological tolerance values in blood and urine (BAT values). In addition, substances that are carcinogenic, germ cell mutagenic, sensitising, skin resorptive and pregnancy-affecting are specifically labelled and appropriate measuring methods are described for compliance with the threshold limit values.
The recommendations are substantiated in detail and made freely available to scientists, policymakers and the public at large in German and English in the MAK Collection. Since knowledge is constantly expanding and new studies and findings are published all the time, the substantiations and the recommendations derived from them have to be constantly revised and reviewed. This is one of the reasons for the Commission’s status as a Permanent Senate Commission. A list reflecting the current state of knowledge on all substances evaluated to date is published annually as the List of MAK and BAT Values and submitted to the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
The list is published in German, English and since 2018 also in Spanish: this is because the Commission is closely associated with European and international bodies such as the EU Commission’s Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL) [since its dissolution in February 2019, the SCOEL's work has been carried out by the ECHA’s RAC (Risk Assessment Committee)] and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Since compliance with threshold limit values can only be verified if appropriate measuring methods are available, the Commission has two working groups that develop, test and publish analytical methods for measurement in the air and in biological material.
The Senate Commission freely chooses its topics and priorities and makes proposals for threshold limit values based solely on scientific findings, regardless of political or economic interests. In addition to the science-driven compilation, discussion and publication of substance evaluations and measuring procedures, it also does a considerable amount of conceptual work, which in turn is incorporated into the proposals for threshold limit values.
For example, the researchers involved develop methods that enable the transfer of findings from animal experiments to humans or make it possible to take into account special circumstances in everyday working life (increased breathing volume or similar). What is more, scientific discourse leads to the establishment of general concepts, such as the differentiated evaluation of carcinogenic substances, dusts and nanomaterials, and also criteria for the interpretation of inflammatory effects. In addition to being discussed in symposia and expert talks, the results are published in scientific journals. In this way, the Commission provides key stimuli in the research fields of toxicology and prevention.