Asbestos: EMPL Committee adopts Report on Asbestos at Work Directive in European Parliament

This week, the Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL) of the European Parliament adopted its Report on the revision of the asbestos at work directive. The Report was adopted with a large majority, with 40 MEPs voting in favour, none against and 7 abstaining, who also voted in favour of all the compromise amendments agreed by the Shadow Rapporteurs and brought forward by Rapporteur Véronique Trillet-Lenoir (Renew Europe/FR). The mandate to enter into interinstitutional negotiations with the Council was unanimously adopted by 47 votes in favour, a rare instance for the European Parliament.

These compromises are the fruit of the synthesis of the almost 300 amendments tabled by MEPs in the EMPL Committee in February. The Report foresees lowering the Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) value to 0.001 fibres/cm3 for an 8-hour working average, following a four-year transition period from entry into force of the revised Directive. Starting from the date of entry into force of this Directive and during this four-year period, a transitional OEL, equal to 0,01 fibres/cm³ would apply. Member States will have those four years to transition to the mandatory use of electron microscopy methodology.

According to the EMPL Report, the Directive would now include a new Annex which would set out detailed minimum requirements on the training of workers destined to handle asbestos. Moreover, a great amount of additional administrative and financial burdens are introduced, including an effectively compulsory use of certification schemes, permitting processes and reporting requirements for employers that go into great detail, and complex notification systems. The Report also proposes an effective ban on encapsulation/sealing of asbestos unless removal is technically impossible, along with mandatory pre-demolition audits.

The provisions pursuant to the concept of “sporadic and low intensity exposure” that were included in the Commission’s legislative proposal would be deleted from the Directive according to the EMPL Report. This would be detrimental for construction SMEs which deal with asbestos from time to time only, to the benefit of specialised companies. 

On a more positive note, EBC welcomes the proposal to introduce a new Article 22a, which puts forward measures for the Commission and Member States to support SMEs both technically and financially in the transition to a new methodology and regulatory framework. 

MEPs in the EMPL Committee opted for the highest level of ambition with the aim to put in place the strictest rules possible to protect workers. EBC deplores the fact that the construction sector’s proposals and warnings have been widely not taken into consideration in this Report. The amendments proposed in the Report would significantly undermine construction SMEs’ ability to be part of the asbestos removal market, effectively restricting the market to specialised actors only. This would not only restrict the offer of asbestos removal services, but also significantly drive up costs for building owners.

EBC will continue to advocate for a more balanced and realistic Directive that guarantees the protection of workers while ensuring that construction SMEs can still contribute to the effort of an asbestos-safe building stock in Europe.

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