Path to an asbestos-free future

LB – 10/2022

On 28 September 2022, the European Commission adopted a comprehensive concept for better protection against carcinogenic asbestos and for an asbestos-free future. Among other things, the current exposure limit for asbestos in the workplace in the EU is to be reduced tenfold, from 0.1 to 0.01 fibres per cubic centimetre (f/cm³) or, in other words, from a maximum of 100,000 fibres to a maximum of 10,000 fibres per cubic metre.

Health risk of asbestos

Asbestos is a carcinogenic substance that has been banned from use in the EU since 2005, but is still present in many older buildings, therefore being capable of posing a health risk to people in the construction industry, for example. Many of the occupational cancers recognised in EU Member States are related to asbestos. It is therefore important to improve protection against asbestos, and not only against the background of the ecological change that the European Commission is aiming for in its political guidelines. The European Commission also wants to optimise health in the workplace.

European Commission proposals

The European Commission had therefore set out, among other things, to update the Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos in the workplace and to reduce exposure to carcinogens and harmful radiation.

In addition to the proposal for a Directive that has now been made with an adjusted limit, it also presented a Communication on the Way Forward Towards an Asbestos-free Future which addresses the issue of asbestos comprehensively - from better diagnosis and treatment of asbestos-related diseases, the detection and safe removal of asbestos in buildings, to the disposal of asbestos waste.  EU funds are provided by the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the European Social Fund Plus and the European Regional Development Fund to support Member States in this regard.

Reactions to lowering of the limit

The European Commission stressed that lowering the limit for asbestos in the workplace to 10 times the current level - from 0.1 f/cm³ to 0.01 f/cm³ - is based on the latest scientific and technological developments. The European Parliament had called for an even stricter limit of 0.001 f/cm³ in October 2021, citing the International Commission on Occupational Health. In this respect, for example, the Trade unions as well as the S&D Parliamentary Group were disappointed by the proposed Directive.

In Germany, the handling of asbestos is regulated in occupational safety by an exposure-risk approach with two limits. In April 2022, DSV therefore proposed a gradual reduction and the setting of a deadline for review. It had also suggested the definition of previously undefined legal terms in the Asbestos Directive.

Next steps

The European Commission's proposal to amend the Directive is now being discussed by the European Parliament and the Member States. After the adoption of the European Commission's proposal, Member States have two years to transpose the Directive into national law.