Parliament approved new rules to protect EU workers from the health risks related to asbestos and to improve the early detection of asbestos.
On Tuesday, plenary adopted with 614 votes in favour, 2 against and 4 abstentions a directive, already agreed with member states, that will decrease the occupational exposure limit of asbestos and calls for the use of more modern and accurate technology to detect the presence of thin asbestos fibres.
Lower level of exposure
The law aims to reduce exposure to asbestos fibres to the lowest possible level. The occupational exposure limit (OEL) will be ten times lower as the limit value will be decreased from 0.1 to 0.01 fibres of asbestos per cubic centimetre (cm³), without a transition period.
After a maximum transition period of six years, member states will have to switch to more modern and sensitive technology that can detect fibres, namely electron microscopy. They will then have the option to either decrease the level to 0.002 fibres of asbestos per cm³ excluding thin fibres, or to 0.01 fibres of asbestos per cm³ including thin fibres.
The new rules also include new requirements to protect workers more robustly. They will have to wear individual protective and respiratory equipment, clothing will have to be cleaned safely, there will be a decontamination procedure, and high-quality training requirements for workers.
The rapporteur of the file, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, passed away on 9 August 2023, before the final adoption of the Directive.
Chair of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, Dragoş Pîslaru (Renew, RO), said: “We have come one step closer to an asbestos-free future. Today’s adoption is part of Veronique Trillet-Lenoir’s great legacy, who fought relentlessly for the health of European citizens. These new rules on asbestos drastically reduce the level of asbestos that workers are exposed to, protecting them from the dangerous carcinogen. But, as there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, the new rules also shield workers by providing them with protective clothes and respiratory equipment, protecting those on the frontline of the buildings renovation wave.”
Council will have to formally endorse the text too, before its publication in the EU Official Journal and entry into force.
Asbestos is an extremely dangerous carcinogen, the presence of which is an issue for a number of sectors, such as construction, renovation, and firefighting. It is by far the biggest cause of work-related cancer: 78% of occupational cancers recognised in EU member states are related to asbestos exposure. Although all forms of asbestos have been banned in the EU since 2005, asbestos fibres are still present in millions of buildings and infrastructures, killing more than 70 000 people a year in Europe.
While the EU Green Deal encourages the renovation of buildings to improve energy efficiency and to ensure a clean energy transition, this also means workers are exposed to an increased risk of occupational cancers. With these new rules, the EU aims to deliver on commitments made in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan.
In adopting this legislation, Parliament is responding to citizens’ expectations concerning common minimum healthcare standards at EU level as well as ensuring decent work standards across global value chains as expressed in proposals (10(1) and 19(2) of the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe.