Asbestos: EBC position calls for a realistic legislative framework with strong accompanying measures for construction SMEs and crafts

In the context of the current revision of Directive 2009/148/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to asbestos at work, the European Builders Confederation (EBC) publishes its position paper today. Construction SMEs are calling for a truly applicable legislative framework, accompanied by strong prevention and training, to effectively and optimally protect construction workers and support SMEs in the transition process.

EBC and its construction SMEs and crafts take the utmost care and commitment to ensure the highest health and safety standards are applied to their workers, as it is one of their top priorities. At the same time, EBC feels compelled to stress that the frameworks currently being discussed needs not only to consider the presence of asbestos in the built environment, the need for an enforceable framework to achieve an asbestos-safe and eventually asbestos-free building stock in Europe, but also the reality of construction SMEs and crafts.

Too ambitious targets when it comes to both new occupational exposure limits and methodologies, but also a consequent short transition to new equipment and assessment tools, could be counterproductive and lead to potential perpetuation of the presence of asbestos in existing buildings, which will undermine the implementation of the Renovation Wave and the European Green Deal.

Priority should be given to strong preventive and accompanying measures for workers, SMEs, building owners and inspectors, together with training schemes for workers and entrepreneurs, a rationalisation and streamlining of inspection tools and methods at EU level, and the possibility for Member States to use European funds to implement these prevention and support actions.

In this context, EBC brings forward the following specific requests and remarks:

  • Define an applicable OELV that protects workers without hindering the Renovation Wave: If companies are not able to apply limit values, they could be obstructed in their efforts to protect workers. Revision clauses could cause uncertainty and disincentivise SMEs’ engagement.
  • Establish a streamlined framework for measurement methodologies and tools: Introduce a reference framework allowing the comparability of different methods across Member States.
  • Consider the technical difficulty of measuring extremely low concentrations of asbestos: SMEs and the market take time to adapt, a transition of at least 7 years should be put in place.
  • Focus more on preventive and accompanying measures: Increase the technical and financial support for training, awareness-raising, and exchange of best practices on asbestos removal for both employers and workers, building owners and inspectors, notably through EU funds.
  • Limit the financial impact of revised rules on resilient but fragile construction SMEs: High investment and adaptation costs could lead to the exclusion of construction SMEs from the asbestos removal market.
  • Equip the construction workforce with the right skills to remove asbestos safely: Both specialised and traditional construction SMEs need to be considered for asbestos removal projects, without an overly restrictive certification system.
  • Reinforce the screening, registering and monitoring of asbestos through its own separate legislation

Only by putting in place a realistic, truly applicable and controllable legislative framework, accompanied by strong prevention and training, will it be possible to effectively and optimally protect contractors and construction workers, in a context of very dynamic activity for SMEs in the building sector who aim to deliver the Renovation wave aspired by the European Union.

To read the full EBC position paper on the revision of the Directive on asbestos at work, click here.