Asbestos: Commission proposes more realistic exposure limit value in new legislative proposal

On Wednesday 28 September, the European Commission unveiled its legislative proposal for a directive revising Directive (2009/148/EC) on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work. EBC welcomes the Commission’s proposal considering it results from a thorough public debate with stakeholders and is accompanied by a dedicated Impact Assessment.

In the past years, EBC has advocated along with FIEC for a focus on accompanying measures that would facilitate the detection and removal of asbestos currently present in Europe’s buildings, which would help maximize workers’ safety, making concrete suggestions thereof. Nevertheless, the focus put on the occupational exposure limit value severely restricted the debates and exploration of other measures with safety potential.

In its draft Directive, the Commission has proposed a new limit value of 0.01 fibres/cm3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA), as opposed to the current limit of 0.1 fibres/cm3. According to the proposal, it will offer a framework that is “balanced and justified in the light of its long-term benefits in terms of reducing the health risks related to the exposure of workers to asbestos” and would thus “not put a disproportionate burden on businesses in the concerned sectors, including on micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.” 

This new limit proposed, corresponding to an EU-wide limit 10 times lower than the existing one. The proposal is welcomed as more realistic than the radically (100 times) lower limit suggested by the European Parliament in a non-binding resolution last year.

When it comes to measurement technologies, the proposal retains the existing measurement tools based on the methodology of phase-contrast microscopy (PCM) in accordance with a 1997 WHO recommendation, while it will now also allow for the Member States to use “wherever possible, any other method giving equivalent or better results, such as a method based on electron microscopy (EM)”.

In addition to the Directive revision proposal, the Commission also published a Communication on working towards an asbestos-free future. The Communication provides a broader overview of the Commission’s strategy to eradicate the presence of asbestos in the EU. It includes non-binding elements of accompanying measures for the removal of asbestos, that EBC has advocated for while making the link with the upcoming revision of the Construction and Demolition Waste Protocol and Guidelines.

EBC will closely monitor this dossier of high political interest and keep close cooperation with construction stakeholders, notably FIEC. We will notably continue to advocate for a realistic and safe limit value but also for the adoption of strong accompanying measures, at the European Parliament and Council level.

Following the publication of the Commission’s proposal, EBC Secretary General Fernando SIGCHOS JIMÉNEZ stated: “EBC welcomes the European Commission’s proposal to revise the Directive on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work. The protection of workers’ health on the construction site has always been and will continue to be of paramount importance for construction SMEs in Europe. Additionally, for the Renovation Wave’s ambition to be successful in delivering better buildings for Europeans, there is a need to focus more on preventive and accompanying measures for asbestos removal. Increasing technical and financial support for training, awareness-raising, and exchange of best practices on asbestos removal for both employers and workers is a central element of this process. At the same time, we need to strengthen the technical and financial support for homeowners to assess the presence of asbestos in their dwellings to reduce the risks upfront and facilitate the removal.”

To access the Commission’s legislative proposal, click here.

To access the Commission’s Communication on working towards an asbestos-free future, click here.

To read EBC input to the European Commission feedback consultation on Health & safety at work – protecting workers from asbestos exposure, click here