Chemical Agents and Asbestos: SMEs need a holistic approach

The European Commission is consulting European Social Partners on the possible direction of EU action to improve the relevance and effectiveness of the Chemical Agents and Asbestos directives by establishing or reviewing binding occupational or biological limit values for asbestos, lead and di-isocyanates.

Over the last decade, the European construction sector has continuously improved its performance in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), thanks to technological progress, as well as to changes in work processes and methods. In a sector in continuous evolution, our SMEs and craftsmen are fully committed to improving health and safety measures for their workers, much further than what derives from legislative obligations.

EBC supports in principle updating the European OSH limits when they are scientifically proven to be outdated, impact on SMEs has appropriately been assessed and a financial/technical support framework for companies to adapt has been established. In particular, this is crucial for construction SMEs because of their limited size and resources, for example when facing the cost of implementing OHS measures, which is higher than for larger enterprises. However, all these crucial elements were not taken int consideration in the current consultation, which does not seem to reflect the necessary holistic approach to reduce dangerous substances in the built environment.

On the contrary, the consultation seems to only focus on reviewing current limits for these dangerous substances without considering other more effective measures for workers’ and homeowners’ health and safety such as:

  • Strengthening the technical and financial assistance support for homeowners to assess the presence of dangerous substances (especially asbestos) in their dwellings. In particular, support should focus on assessing the levels of dangerous substances and, if present, on their safe removal. These measures would allow reducing the risk of exposure of construction workers at the very beginning of the process and would certainly be more effective than taking risk prevention measures while carrying out the works.
  • Development of specific treatment protocols on chemical agents and asbestos for disposal operators of construction/demolition waste;
  • Ensure that construction enterprises are able to benefit from an appropriate number of adapted waste facilities for these materials, located close to construction sites or their businesses (maximum 20 km or 30 minutes transport time).
  • Increase technical and financial support for training, awareness-raising and exchange of best practices for both employers and workers are key elements for implementing current OSH limits
EBC will continue to follow this issue to make sure that the health and safety of construction workers and homeowners are addressed with the most effective policy measures.