Policy revision in the home stretch

IF – 10/2023

The agreement between the negotiating teams of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on the revision of Directive 2009/148/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work was reached more quickly than expected. During the summer, an agreement was reached on a result that was acceptable to all sides.

Worker protection at the forefront

In the Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL), a report was presented on 7 September on the outcome of the inter-institutional negotiations on the proposal for an amendment of the Asbestos Directive. Health and safety at work is an important issue in the European Parliament, also across party lines. Accordingly, the agreement was adopted by a majority. The final agreement was adopted in the spirit of the ongoing legislative process on 3 October in the plenary session in Strasbourg with an overwhelming majority of 620 votes in favour, 2 against and 4 abstentions by MEPs.

Europe should become asbestos-free

The new rules will significantly reduce the current limits for asbestos and bring them in line with technological advances in methods for measuring asbestos fibres. Thus, in a first step, the maximum allowable concentration is to be reduced from the current 0.1 f/cm³ to 0.01 asbestos fibres per cm³ for a transitional period of no more than six years. According to this, Member States are obliged to use the new method of electron microscopy for the measurement of asbestos fibres. This also enables the measurement of thin asbestos fibres. Two options are allowed following the introduction of electron microscopy. If thin asbestos fibres are also measured, the maximum allowable concentration remains at 0.01 fibre/cm³. If no thin asbestos fibres are measured, the maximum allowable concentration is reduced to 0.002 fibre/cm³. Improved prevention and protection measures were also agreed upon.

The human-centred approach

The new Directive additionally contains new requirements for stronger protection of workers from exposure to asbestos. They must wear personal protective equipment including respirators and the protective equipment must be cleaned accordingly. There will be a special decontamination procedure for disaster and occupational health decontamination. In the case of occupational accidents, usually only persons who were endangered by localised accidents are decontaminated.

Open end

The European Parliament would like to see an asbestos-free Europe in the future and calls on the European Commission to continue to fight the "invisible killer". Especially in the context of the Green Deal and the accompanying wave of building renovation, a long-term strategy against asbestos exposure is needed. The issue will certainly also be important in the next legislative period. In order to increase protection for workers and to reduce the occupational cancer risk, intensive training on the handling of asbestos is planned. As long as the Green Deal is being implemented and the renovation of buildings in Member States continues for decades, an asbestos-free Europe will be a long time coming.


The European Commission was very satisfied with the debate at European level. The outcome aims to eliminate work-related fatalities, which are also related to the adopted EU strategic framework for health and safety at work. On 23 October the Council of the European Union formally approved the new rules, and Member States have two years after the Directive enters into force to introduce the new maximum allowable concentration of 0.01 fibre/cm3 and six years to introduce electron microscopy to measure asbestos in the workplace. The road to an asbestos-free future and raising awareness about the health risks will have to remain on the European agenda.