Asbestos at work: boost detection, protection and prevention for EU workers

Asbestos at work: boost detection, protection and prevention for EU workers

COVI Special Committee — Exchange of views with Emer Cooke, Executive Director of the European Medicines Agency (EMA)

MEPs want to eradicate EU employees’ risk of exposure to carcinogenic substances at work by increasing their detection through new technology and adding safety obligations for employers.

On Wednesday, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs approved a draft report on a revision of the Asbestos at Work Directive with 40 votes in favour, none against and 7 abstentions.

Asbestos is an extremely hazardous carcinogen, which continues to impact on various economic sectors, such as construction and renovation, mining, waste management and firefighting, where workers face a high risk of exposure. Asbestos fibres are by far the major cause of work-related cancer, with as much as 78% of occupational cancers recognised in the member states as being related to exposure to asbestos.

The draft text calls on employers to reduce exposure to asbestos fibres to the lowest possible level and below an occupational-exposure limit (OEL) of 0.001 fibres/cm³ on an eight-hour average, while aiming to introduce the use of electron microscopy to efficiently detect thinner fibres, often the most carcinogenic.

The proposals would fully come into force after a four-year transitional period where a transitional OEL equal to 0.01 fibres/cm³ would apply, while EU countries would still be able to use the current phase-contrast microscope (PCM) method.

The report targets a harmonised EU approach in detection and prevention of asbestos, bringing the obligation for medical surveillance in line with scientific knowledge.

Finally, the text takes into account passive and secondary exposures to asbestos and sets out a list of means to avoid them, such as the use of individual protective and respiratory equipment, the safe cleaning of clothing, a mandatory decontamination procedure, and minimum training requirements for workers in specialised asbestos removal undertakings.

Parliament will be ready to start negotiations on the file after confirmation during a plenary session in May.

“The renovation wave planned by the Green Deal requires a reinforcement of the protection of workers against asbestos, still present in many buildings,” said rapporteur Véronique Trillet-Lenoir (Renew, FR).

“The report adopted today aims at modernising the asbestos directive, in order to fight against this leading cause of occupational cancers. I am proud of the adoption of this text and we will defend the European Parliament’s ambitious position in the upcoming inter-institutional negotiations.”


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