On 27 June, the Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement about better protection for workers from
the risks related to being exposed to asbestos. Now the ambassadors from the
member states in the Permanent Representatives Committee have to approve the
agreement before the directive’s text is adapted accordingly and finally
adopted in the next council meeting. After that, the member states have two
years to implement the modified directive with the exception of the obligation
to introduce electron microscopy; as the member states are to be given six
years for this.
The road to agreement
On 28 September 2022, the EC submitted its Proposal for an amendment to
Directive 2009/148/EU about protecting
workers from the risks related to being exposed to asbestos at work. On 27
April 2023, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs adopted its report and a decision about opening inter-institutional negotiations and
the mandate was finally approved in the European Parliament in May 2023. The
Council had already agreed on their Position on 8 December 2022 that was largely in line with the EC’s ideas.
An agreement was reached after four rounds of trialogue, even
though the positions of the European Parliament and the Council initially
seemed irreconcilable. One of the reasons for this was that the European
Parliament wanted to reduce the occupational exposure limit value from 0.1
fibres per cm³ (f/cm³) to 0.01 f/cm³ without a transition period. The European
Parliament also wanted to change the detection methodology much faster than the
EC and the council wanted to. According to the ideas of the European
Parliament, the transition should take place in four years and after the
introduction of the new measurement technology, the limit value could then be
reduced to 0.001 f/cm³. In addition to these main demands, there were other MEP
requirements on which agreement could now be reached.
The maximum exposure value would be reduced to 0.01 f/ cm3. This value
will be measured by electron microscopy in the future and it will replace the
previous phase-contrast microscopy. Thin asbestos fibres can also be measured
using the new measuring method. The transitional period for the method change
is a maximum of six years, whereas the EC's original proposal was seven years.
Two options will be are allowed after electron microscopy is introduced:
- Thin asbestos
fibres will also be measured. In this case, the maximum exposure value remains
at 0.01 f/cm³.
- Thin asbestos
fibres will not be measured. In this case, the maximum exposure value is
reduced to 0.002 f/cm³.
Improved prevention and protection measures were also agreed upon.
This includes the obligation to obtain a permit for demolition or asbestos
removal work and identifying asbestos-contaminated materials in advance of such
work. This will apply in particular to buildings that were built before the
respective national asbestos ban. Protection for workers who are actively or
passively exposed to asbestos will also be improved by providing mandatory
training according to EU-wide minimum standards. Furthermore, personal
protective equipment will be provided to these workers. Finally, there was
agreement that member states must keep a public register covering
asbestos-related occupational diseases.
The agreement in its overall context
Improved protection against the risk of asbestos is part of
the european plan to combat cancer and the Zero Pollutant Action Plan. However, the agreement also contributes to the European Pillar of Social Rights
(ESSR) as the reduced risk from
asbestos means that Principle 10 of the ESSR is being heeded. By reducing the
limit values as well as introducing the above-mentioned improved
training/protection measures, the working environments of these employees will
be safer and their health risk will be reduced. Therefore climate protection,
which was also taken into consideration in the general ban on asbestos in the
EU in 2005, will lead to better occupational health and safety for workers
through the revised version of Directive 2009/148/EU.